Incremental change in an organisation is like a ripple in a pond. Small changes can have large ripple effects.
There are many ways to ensure that you can maximise the effect of the changes you make. A first principle of continuous improvement is to have good information. Good information comes from good data.
What kind of data can you collect to bring about significant improvement in efficiency and productivity?
I think a really good place to start is to look at the things that get in the way of completing tasks when and how you would like. You may be surprised at the time you can save by eliminating the hassles from every day tasks. So what are you likely to find? Here are a few examples.
- Equipment not put back where it should be
- Equipment & materials not stored in the most efficient way
- Missing materials (ie no system for re-order)
- You can’t remember what to do because its been a long time
- Information is hard to get
- You have been “working around” a problem for some time
- Equipment failure on a regular basis
- No consistency in how it is done
Once you have gathered data, ideally over a period of time, you will be able to apply the 80/20 rule to decide on the first place to start. The 80/20 rule says that 20% of the issues will be causing 80% of the problems, so tackle them first.
One drop in the pond will create endless ripples that will make a big difference to your business.
About 20 years ago, I began a journey looking at business processes and how they can be improved. I discovered Total Quality Management (TQM), Quality Improvement, Kaizen, Problem Solving, staff involvement and empowerment. I visited the Toyota plant in Thames (NZ) a couple of times (it’s not there anymore) and learnt about “The Toyota Way”. I was hooked on the processes for staff involvement, problem solving and incremental improvement. I admired the methods for organisation of the workplace and could see the benefit of it for productivity.
When I began consulting nearly 10 years ago, I was surprised that this ethos of process improvement was not prevalent in more workplaces.
And then “Lean” became the new buzzword. Lean was a repackaged, sexier version of the old style TQM- the Toyota way. So what is it?
For me, Lean is about identifying areas for improvement by clearly identifying what you want to achieve, where you can reduce waste, increase efficiency or minimise loss, find possible solutions and plan implementation. It is also about people, involving people in improving their own work processes, providing the tools for people to do better and empowering them to make a difference.
How do you identify where to start? Ask yourself where you think you waste time, money, material or product? For example:
- What makes you, or your team, go aaargh?
- When does plant and equipment let you down?
- How often do you work around something to get the result you want?
Lean is a state of mind, a way of thinking. Once you start to think about the things you can improve it will become second nature and you have taken the first step.