6 Keys to Improvement (Part 2)
By Ted Annis, BRC President
“Improvement” is one of the 7 management principles outlined within ISO 9001:2015 and is a fundamental component of any management system. We often see organizations making a commendable effort to improve processes, procedures, products, etc. Unfortunately, we also see some companies that are paralyzed by the process. The intent and effort are there, but while searching for a perfect solution they miss many opportunities for incremental improvements.
Do you recall the “Leaping Frog” problem from grade school math? A frog starts in the centre of a pond and tries to hop out, but each leap covers just half the remaining distance to the edge of the pond. Will the frog ever reach land? The answer, of course, is “no”. Although in time he will come frustratingly close, he will always leap just half the distance and will never reach his goal (unless we use university math, which I long ago swore not to revisit).
In Part I we introduced the importance of Continual Improvement as one of the management principles and a fundamental component of any management system. Our keys to help shape your continual improvement strategy are not all-encompassing…rather some suggestions on how to mould and shape your approach.
Keys 1-3 from Part I…
- Understand “Continuous” vs. “Continual”
- Set Goals (Objectives) and Take Steps
- Avoid Perfectionism as a Hindering Behaviour
In Part 2 we’ve got 3 more suggestions to share…
4. Find Opportunities for Improvement
“Opportunity” is a great, optimistic word. It is used frequently in sales and marketing in reference to profit that can come from increased revenue. Unfortunately, it is much less often used in reference to design, development and production. An increase in sales will help the bottom line, but so will a reduction of costs!
With this in mind, one way to fuel your Continual Improvement efforts is to encourage your team to look for opportunities to improve. We can do this during formal audits, but we can also do it as part of our everyday activities…as long as you are able to create and maintain a culture that encourages it. If you look at it this way, Continual Improvement becomes a simpler process to:
- Document opportunities to improve (training, simplification or alteration of processes & procedures, new technology, monitoring & measuring, etc.).
- Implement improvements wherever possible and acknowledge those who made contributions. Look at each improvement as an opportunity to acknowledge and communicate.
- Monitor and measure any and all quantifiable results of the improvements (e.g. 8% reduction in waste material and the associated $ savings).
- Report these results as a regular part of your management review meetings, which helps to remind everyone that quality can have a positive impact on the bottom line, too.
Ask yourself how you can structure your procedures and approach to help ensure a focus on opportunities for improvement. One simple way is to supplement your audit checklist with questions that specifically inquire about possible improvements. “How do you think we could improve this process?” or “What changes might make you better at your job?”
5. Don’t Be Afraid to “Cross the Chasm”
Most of our tips here are related to Kaizen-oriented thinking and behaviour, where continual small, incremental improvements provide tremendous improvements in performance and results over time.
But we should also be careful not to avoid or ignore opportunities to “Cross the Chasm” by introducing drastic change to replace inefficient or ineffective practices. Within a continual improvement culture there is room for both approaches, and they complement each other nicely.
6. Take a Lesson from the Frog
Thinking back to our friend the frog, who can only ever jump half the distance to his goal…
Remember that setting lofty objectives and targets (even unattainable ones) is encouraged as long as you don’t lose sight of the organization’s main goal – increasing profit. That goal does not come with an absolute finish line…or any measure of perfection…just the need to continually improve.
So, work to implement improvements wherever possible, then measure their impact and advertise those benefits as a way to provide recognition and encourage more participation. It is a “continual” process.
We may never quite reach our objective, but it is clearly in our best interest to keep hopping!
This article is featured in Issue #180 of The Quality Review.