A read a shocking article from the Six Sigma Daily that stated 60% of six sigma projects fail in corporations due to the lack of mentorship, lack of leadership participation, no performance merits tied to employees, and having the right size project teams. I recall my GE days back in 2001 when they told us it was all about having the DNA. To embed this continuous improvement DNA, everyone in the company had to participate. There was a quality organization that mentored and supported the employees. But as time went by, only some projects were aligned with the company's strategy while others were not. We lost our way when "Quality" was benched for short-term gains. It seems nothing has changed in the past twenty years for other corporations as well. Companies put in place a continuous improvement program without the needed support for the employees that go beyond the classroom and virtual training.
Yet I have come to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for continuous improvement. If upper management does not see the benefits, then it’s up to the employees in the company to step up and become game changers. Here is a story of one such employee, a quality control inspector, that I had the privilege of supporting and mentoring for the last couple of years. He started with a simple DMAIC framework project within his area of inspection on the factory floor. He lobbied for operators to be part of his project to improve the inspection process. As the project progressed, the operators started learning by working with the inspector. When they saw that things were starting to change for the better, they started believing in continuous improvement.
As I mentored the inspector, the inspector mentored his team. The final changes were presented to their vice-president by the entire team so that everyone could receive recognition for the work. In the middle of the meeting the vice-president left the conference room to go down to the factory floor to see what really occurred. He was surprised to see the changes on the floor and the easier access to the product. The vice-president mandated the inspector to improve the entire factory layout and train all operators on how to improve their areas. So, what comes next?
Now that top management is engaged, to continue this momentum, they should create a “kata” mindset for continuous improvement on the factory floor. Kata is a Japanese term meaning “way of doing” or “creating a habit”. The best way to do so is to establish this is to have a simple continuous improvement process or Kaizen program.
Here are the process steps:
The inspector starts with some training on what waste is at the workplace. He follows with training on identifying the different types of waste and what benefits can occur once these wastes are removed.
Establish a way for any employee to submit an idea for improvement. The easiest way is to have the employees fill in a simple form and submit it to a centralized location that can be an email address or inbox on site.
The expert, which in this case will start with the inspector, will review the entries at the end of each day and decide if the change makes sense. If more information is needed to decide, the inspector will go speak with the person for details.
Once the improvement suggested is approved, the employee can put together their team to make the change. The team should have two to five people who are those that will be affected by this change.
The inspector will be made available to mentor these employees when they require support.
At the submission of the change, the inspector witnesses the changes, helps the team calculate the benefits, and documents the change.
The inspector should speak with the vice-president to set up a monthly meeting where the kaizens can be presented. I’ve seen this done where each person has 2-3 minutes to present their change.
A reward system should be tied to the top Kaizens, which can be given quarterly or at the company’s town meeting.
As this process creates visibility, novelty becomes a daily occurrence. This is where the kata mindset happens. It starts with a handful of kaizens, but as top management recognizes these changes, more employees will start coming forward with improvements. When this program grows, the inspector and vice-president should look at creating more experts to help the inspector manage the program. When everyone is looking at improving their areas of work, the company should make it part of the employee’s performance goals & objectives.
Just think, it all started with one person, the quality inspector, wanting to learn how to improve his workplace. There are many resources on the web where you can self-learn, but experience becomes a key piece of the puzzle. If you get stuck along the way, take a course, hire a consultant, or get a mentor. They can guide you through the steps, work out the barriers specific to your company, and achieve your goals faster.
We can help you if you are in need. In fact, go to our website and subscribe to get a free copy of the Kata Continuous Improvement framework geared for companies to set up their own continuous improvement DNA. Or reach out to us at AZ Consulting-SP for a free consultation.