Learning Continuous Improvement [Guest Blog]

by Donald Sweigart on 05-02-11

Guest Post: Donald Sweigart worked with “The Body Shop @” which developed the “Star-Link Certified” Lean business model improving Profitability, CSI, and Cycle Time in the Collision Repair Industry. This model is now licensed by a Fortune 100 in it’s Industry-wide Lean Training. His passion is implementing Lean solutions in industry.

Continuous incremental Improvement is a goal that can be reached by any team when they know what it is. It’s also something that takes the longest to feel.

After a Kaizen event has started a Lean Implementation, it will then create goals which are small improvements. A Kaizen event is the first part of a Lean Transformation that takes place at the Shop level. When you have gone through all the work of Kaizen and asked your people to make the leap of faith that Lean is a good thing for them even though they are resistant to change, they need to have a tangible event or moment that shows them what improvement is.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Toyota Motor Maufacturing of Kentucky celebrated the fact that they had reduced cycle time by fourteen seconds after one year of work. Now that shows a REAL committment to Continual Improvement.

To most teams that do not have that level of Lean experience, and without a moment like that, it may seem that Lean is just a way to get people to do all these strange things for no reason. After they see that the system delivers a signal to improve, then they will start to get it. It’s a great thing to see when someone has that light bulb moment; “Oh, now I get it, we just fix whatever is not working.”

It’s hard to explain how this works to someone and have them believe it. You can explain and implement the systems that lead to continuous improvement but when you make one improvement and celebrate it, that is when you see the eye’s light up and the resistance start to fade.

We implemented a Lean model in a business that had no Lean model at all. The product is also different for each customer. Our process and standard work handled the variability well because a lot of the product was the same. Our team went in and did Kaizen (Lean Transformation) with the people. At this point they had no point of reference because we had changed so much. You could almost expect the same questions at the same time during the process.

As Heijunka (Leveling production flow) was implemented they started to understand the whole idea of Process. However, now there was a daily goal. One of the hard things was motivating them to not concentrate on a money goal. As soon as they thought that money was what we were looking for, then the whole system was forgotten. We only wanted Continual Improvement, the money would come if we had that. Stressing the system with a Goal shows everyone where the improvement is needed. WE knew that the goal was just to do Standard work and look for improvement, but some people were so trained to look at money as the goal that it became a problem because as soon as they lost sight of the Process that delivers improvement, things went bad. Sticking to the Standard work brought everyone back on track, since it is easy to follow and it got us back on track pretty quickly.

Your Lean tools need to be working correctly to achieve the goal of Continual Improvement. Fixing the tools is part of Continual Improvement. Don’t lose focus on Continual Improvement and you will get a better team and a better Process.