Three basic concepts that leaders need to learn
To successfully overcome each challenge presented to us, we need to know certain basic concepts. For continuous improvement, there are three concepts that management should learn and teach to their team. They are, put quality first, the next process is the customer, and speak with data.
The basic concepts and the Customer
The CI goal is to deliver the customer the highest product or service quality, at the lowest possible cost, in the shortest lead time. Therefore, the focus of all our decisions is quality, cost, and delivery.
How do you keep the focus? How can you guide others to keep the focus? There are several changes in how we work as managers that have to change. None of them represents a new management style. However, many entrepreneurs keep doing the same thing since they learn the ropes of the trade and ignore these three ideas.
Put Quality First
Quality should be the highest priority over cost and delivery but, that is not common practice. Throughout my career, I have seen plenty of examples where quality is put to second or third place while making decisions. The worst part is that the reason cited to do so was to give the customer what they want at the time they wanted it. Really? Is that the reason or that production planning does not want to fall behind on their attainment metrics? Or to avoid the inspection cost? Or maybe to evade having a difficult conversation with the customer?
Practicing quality first requires commitment from management. Alignment within the organization is critical to ensure that the customer receives a high product or service quality. When the entire management team makes decisions based on this and model this behavior all the time, the employees will understand that quality is more important than quantity or delivery and will act accordingly.
Quality is not only for the product, information, or service the external customer will receive. It also applies to the quality of the internal processes. With CI you are seeking to improve the processes with small daily changes, everywhere by everybody. You go see the process, walk the process, and understand the process to identify ways to improve it and minimize all types of waste. After improvements, you either change or create standard work for that particular process. In other words, your focus to improving process quality is the process itself, not the results of the process.
The Next Process is the Customer
Although we all know that every process has a supplier and a customer, every time we talk about customers most people’s mind goes immediately to external customers. Every member of the team should know two things, what is their role in providing the customer the value they expected and that the next process is their immediate customer. It is management responsibility to provide this information to their team.
Knowing their role within the company strategies, including customer and quality give them the understanding of how their actions affect the value stream. It is also a way to present them why their work is important. How they contribute to ensure that the company achieves its goals, by producing a good quality job or service to the next process, which is their customer.
Speak with Data
While many people like to use their experience or gut feelings to make decisions, within a CI environment you speak with data. Tools like huddle meetings, war rooms, 5S and visual management use data to tell what is going on. Visual data presented clearly and simply is important for clear and effective communication as well as alignment with company goals.
Continuous improvement uses PDCA as a structured way to solve problems. If you recall, the first step, Plan requires to define the problem or situation you want to fix. To define it you need to collect all pertinent data, no gut feelings or believes but clear, accurate data.
To support your continuous improvement journey, three basic thoughts should be part of your daily though process, put quality first, the next process is the customer and speak with data. For some people, these thoughts require a mindset change, and for others just a little tweak. A continuous improvement culture is about exploring new ways to do what we do, learn, and adjust or change. These concepts are another step on your CI journey.