Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tip of the day: Don't Filter Improvement Ideas!!

There is a huge difference between the results you can get "doing lean" vs. creating a culture of continuous improvement.  

In the simplest terms, the former is about getting some people trained in the tools, and going about the work of fixing other people's jobs by doing some events. The latter is about building an entire population of fearless people improving their work every day. 

The 2nd P (of 4) in TPS is "develop your people and partners". This small task (I'm being sarcastic as always) entails teaching every person in your business how to solve their problems (the 8 wastes) using the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control), leveraging diversity, gaining agreement and then teaching others what they've learned. A3 is the absolute perfect blueprint to accomplish this task. 

To get this started, ask everyone to think of one improvement they would make if they owned the company. Employee suggestions are a great way to convert "I just work here" to ownership in people and is how Toyota actually measures morale. Start with 5 or 6 of these suggestions and teach the person who made the suggestion how to lead A3. Make the active A3s visible on a project board in a prominent place, and spend time daily helping the A3 leaders through the DMAIC with a team of 3-5 team members.  Help them "close" their project in front of a group of their peers and managers. As projects close, replace them on the board with more suggestions. Teach TPM as a countermeasure if someone is frustrated that their machine goes down. Teach 5S as a countermeasure for someone frustrated that they are always looking for tools. Teach Kanban as a countermeasure for someone tired of running out of a raw material. Teach lean tools in the context of solving their problems.

One of the fastest ways to put a cold wet blanket on momentum is to "filter" the suggestions. Why do so many suggestion boxes stay empty for years or even decades? Because people don't really think you will listen. If someone makes a suggestion for an improvement, help them accomplish it. I have seen cases where a suggestion has to go to a committee to determine if it is worth doing. It doesn't take long before people stop suggesting. It is disrespectful to ask people what they think and then dismissing what they say. Don't do it! Sometimes, as a leader, you may have to help refine the scope of what they are thinking, because A3 is about small improvements hundreds of times per year.

Remember that in the beginning, all we want to do is teach people how to pick the right team to get things done, how not to jump to solutions, how to do some root cause analysis using 5 why, how to work together to gain agreement, and how to talk to a group without having a nervous breakdown. The actual improvements themselves are a bonus. The A3 process is about building leaders who will eventually be using A3 to solve problems that have haunted the business for years!  It is very very difficult, if not impossible, to do hoshin kanri (policy deployment) with a group of people who think "I just work here." 

Don't place judgement on what is a good improvement and what is a bad improvement. If you avoid this mistake at all costs you will wake up one day and go to work in a company with a culture of continuous continuous improvement. This is a very difficult company to compete with! 

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