I’ve had the chance to talk to with a few companies during my current trip to Georgia and South Carolina about lean programs, implementation, and strategies. Each one was in different phases of implementing lean, using different continuous improvement programs, and had different support systems and communication methods. In my opinion, some were applying continuous improvement well and were on their way to success, while others were inconsistent with their approach and dedication. Either way, it’s been a busy trip.
(As a result, I apologize for the dearth of blog posts during this trip.)
This has given me an opportunity to see more continuous improvement “translations” and “modifications” in different circumstances. I try to take away some learning experiences from each visit.
Based on what I’ve seen on this trip and pretty much everywhere else I’ve gone, there are a couple of key learnings that continue to be reinforced. For any company looking to start a successful lean journey, these two items are critical. There are certainly more, but these two items have to occur and be in place very early.
First…continuous improvement has to start from the top.
The need, drive, and desire to get better has to be a concept directed from the higher-ups of an organization. Continuous improvement needs to be part of the corporate strategy, not just “something that we do when we can.” Lean and continuous improvement will continue to be a “flavor of the week” idea if it’s treated as so. If the leaders think continuous improvement is important and put their money where their mouth is, then everyone else will begin finding it important as well. If the top official isn’t available to demonstrate the importance of continuous improvement, then someone else nearly as high up that is in control of strategy and budgets needs to demonstrate it.
Second…you must have a plan and you must stick to it.
Whether you follow the world-class manufacturing process and utilize pillars and autonomous management or use the Toyota Production System concepts or another modified lean and continuous improvement methodology, create a plan and follow it. Create the ideal vision of where your organization should strive to be and develop a plan (and budget) to get there.
When you take a trip and use a map, you first consider where you are headed and where you start. From there you develop a travel plan and produce a list of directions. Will those directions possibly change? Certainly – maybe there are unknown construction sites or there’s another rockslide that takes out I-40 outside Asheville (let’s certainly hope that never happens again). Either way, such obstacles don’t stop you in the middle of your trip – you make slight modifications to your plan with the destination in mind.
The same goes for continuous improvement. The physical environment and business climate may change, and thusly the plan for continuous improvement. Your lean journey will hit roadblocks – count on it. Don’t let it stop you. Maybe there will be smaller budgets than expected or resources have to be redeployed, but modify the plan and keep marching toward the ideal situation.
So often companies and organizations will start out on their journey and just drop continuous improvement at the first sign of stress. The path is not guaranteed to be free of speed bumps but you have to navigate them.
Lean and continuous improvement isn’t an easy journey but it can be followed successfully. Don’t make it harder than it has to be – if you do, you may never get (close) to your destination.