Sunday, July 31, 2016

How to Make Your Lean Journey a Real Short Trip

I've come to the conclusion that there is one sure fire way to kill all momentum on your continuous improvement journey. And, if you do this one thing right from the beginning, your continuous improvement journey will end up being one very short trip. From here to the end of the driveway and back. Liken the training and preparation to start a lean journey to packing for a week's vacation at the shore. Bikes, umbrellas, clothes, kids, bathing suits, coolers, mother-in-law, books, towels, etc. (Wears me out just thinking about it). Get everything and everyone loaded up, drive to the bottom of the driveway, do a u-ey, drive back home. 

So we've made the decision to be an organization that is determined to do continuous improvement. Probably some training is required. Sometimes you might send someone off to get "certified". There is usually a lot of energy and effort to get everyone engaged and excited and willing to participate. People may have been through something like this before, so they might not go "all in" right away. 

Most often, I like to start the journey off by asking the people who do the value added work for suggestions of things that make them feel frustrated about their jobs. Trust me, if you REALLY want to know, they will tell you. These suggestions are a really good way to get the continuous improvement ball rolling. Just ask people, "if you owned the company, what is the one change you would make to make your job better right now? Be prepared for some really cool ideas you would have never thought of. Things that slow them down, make them wait, get in their way, make them do things twice....etc. When companies I work for use A3 to implement constant improvements, these suggestions really get the trip off to a good start, right out of the driveway and onto the entrance ramp to the highway.

Now the stubbing of the toe part. If you like broken toes, all you need to do is take all these suggestions as they come in and put them into one of two buckets. Good. Or no good. Screen them! Screen them based on ROI or degree of difficulty or any criteria that pops into your head. Create a committee whose job is to screen them!

Before you know it, the station wagon just did a U-ey and is headed for home. Journey over. Once you start screening suggestions, they will come to a screeching stop. When you tell someone thanks but no thanks, don't expect people to be too willing to submit other improvement ideas. Don't expect their friends and peers to either. Word travels fast. 

To avoid this stubbing of toes, figure out a way to turn every suggestion into an opportunity. Sometimes the scope might be too big for A3. Work with the person who gave you the idea to narrow the scope. Bite off a smaller piece. Even if someone's idea is to "improve morale around here", ask them to give you an example of what they see as poor morale and at least an idea or two to fix it. (Most times it has something to do with poor communication ("they don't tell me anything around here")

The point is, never judge whether an employee's idea is worth your time. You wouldn't do that if a customer called with an idea to improve, right? Once people know you're listening and open and receptive, the flood gates will open and your journey will be fun and fulfilling. 

Better than stubbing your toe or telling your mother-in-law the vacation is over.

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