Stop fixing and start improving

stop fixing problems and start improving

If you have a friend or acquaintance who is a business owner, I bet there is not one time you met that the conversation doesn’t gravitate toward business stuff.  As a result, you hear stories about the enterprise’s performance.  When things are not going as expected, you talk about things he or she want or should do in their business.  Moreover, they keep talking about problems and how they fix them.  The problem is that they should stop fixing and start improving processes.

Stop fixing and start improving

Richard is the owner and general manager of a chemical laboratory.  Every once in a while, I see him at a bar we both frequent. As we have friends in common, several times our groups get together to have a good time.  Inevitably, I heard Richard talking about the problems he had in the lab many times.  However, it took me several months to convince him to do something about it.

During the time that Richard was talking about inefficiencies, his business was suffering.  ChemTest was not releasing results on time or keeping up with demand.  Therefore, the customer service rate was declining.  Also, he was missing the opportunity to grow the business.  Every day, Richard and his team were working very hard to get caught up with the tests.  Richard thought he was fixing the problem by hiring a new lab technician.  

But the real problem is that he was not fixing this problem.  Even more, he did not fix the situation of running out of reagents by increasing the inventory level.  Neither the testing errors by hiring a laboratory helper to organize and label samples.  Richard was trying to fix problems by throwing more resources into the business.  In fact, instead of fixing, he should have been improving the processes.

This is the time to stop fixing and start improving

Like, Richard, many business owners or leaders are focus on fixing problems day in and day out.  But there are two problems with that approach.  First, probably they are only dealing with the symptoms of the problem, not the cause.  Hence, there is no such thing as fixing or solving the problem.  And second, they are not improving the business processes.

Process improvement using simple and common-sense solutions is the best way to eliminate waste and increase safety, quality, and efficiency.  It is also the best way to achieve the fastest delivery times without spending lots of money.  Continuous improvement is a people focus system.  Leadership takes care of the team and the team takes care of the problems.  Through skills development and lean thinking, the team learns to improve their work area and processes.

As a consequence, leadership would have more time to think about improvements, new products, and how to grow the business.  How long have you been thinking about doing something to change your business performance?  Have you considered a continuous improvement strategy?  These days, more than ever it is critical to building a flexible business capable of adjusting to market changes as fast as possible.  This is the time to stop fixing, and start improving.

One-touch rule

My number one trick to keep myself organized is what I call the one-touch rule. Procrastinating is not something that I do. There is no point in pushing back the completion of something that you will have to do anyway. Dealing with emails or regular mail is one of those things.

I know people that have thousands of emails on their accounts. Most of them are spam or promotions. The problem is that they either ignore or go over them many times. I use the one-touch to manage my emails.

Get used to open each email only once. You read it and decide what to do, archive it or delete it. Sometimes you need to take action with the information delivered. If that is the case, you can set that email as a task or appointment. Do not forget to include a due day for all your tasks.

With the regular mail is the same concept. Every day or whenever you go to the post office, you sort your letters. You categorize the mail into pay, archive, read, or trash. Prepare an area with a couple of bins as needed. I have the shredding machine in the same area, so promotions or any document with personal information goes immediately into it. Create the habit to take at least 30 minutes every week to go over those things in the pay and read category. Unless it is a magazine, you should be able to read or pay and either archive or trash within that time.

Think about it, this is common-sense. It is just a simple way to keep yourself organized.

What is 5S? What are the 5 steps

5S is the five steps program for housekeeping and workplace organization. Standard work, waste elimination, and 5S are the foundation of the common-sense improvements approach. 5S stands for five words that together make this cleaning and organization methodology. The steps are Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Together, they promote stability and improvements in the business processes.

Sort, the first step

In the first step, Sort you go through all the materials, tools, and equipment on the area sorting between necessary and unnecessary items. You will keep only those items that you need to do your job. Also, you keep only the amount you need. During this step, red tags are used to unneeded items to identify them. This is part of the Red Tag Campaign. The rule of thumb is When in doubt, move it out.

Second S, Set in order

During the Set in Order step, you will assign a location for the needed items. Have closer to you those things that you use very often. Think about what I need? Where I need it? How many? Consider to create a central location for shareable items, this will reduce excess inventory. The motto for this step is A place for everything and everything in its place!

Shine, the third step

Shine is to clean everything inside and out. Inspect for broken pieces, wear and tear, and leaks while cleaning. Make sure that your findings are corrected as soon as possible. Think about ways to minimize reoccurrence. Ask yourself: What to clean? How to clean it? Who is responsible? Set the cleaning standard, how clean is clean. Develop temporary checklists, cleaning responsibilities, and schedules. 5S is not spring cleaning, Make inspect and clean part of your daily routine.

Standardize is the fourth S

Standardize the preceding three steps. Set clear expectations to make 5S the everyday standard for your workplace. This is the time to revise the temporary signs, maximum number, checklists, schedules, and others. Do you need to change anything? Make sure that the standard is correct before making it official. To avoid falling back to the initial state, Follow the standards daily, success is a habit, not an act.

Sustain, the most important step of 5S

Sustain is a never-ending step. You want to make sure that all four previous steps are followed every day. Develop a 5S mentality by promoting it daily, recognizing success, and correcting out of the standard situations. Create and enforce a 5S training for new team members. The motto for 5S is Cleaning and organizing is a practice, not a project. Make 5S part of your daily routine.

Benefits of 5S

Some of the benefits of 5S are obtaining a clean, sanitary, and pleasant work environment, remove safety hazards, and improving employee morale and motivation. 5S also creates a great first impression for customers and visitors. Start using 5S as part of your improvement program today!

How can you create changes in your business?

Often business owners see something that tells them that something different needs to be done. Perhaps it is a recurring problem or realizes that the business is not reaching financial goals. What is the solution? You need to identify what areas need change and prioritize. How can you create changes? There are two major ways to create change: innovation and continuous improvement.

Create changes by innovating, or not.

More often than not, innovation is a high-cost solution. While it is necessary to keep yourself ahead of the game, I like to start somewhere else. My first stop in creating improvements is to use common sense, low-cost solutions.

Common-sense solutions

What are common-sense solutions? It is to approach a problem using good judgment. For example, let’s use one of my favorite low-cost tools: housekeeping and organization. Will you agree that keeping a clean and organized workplace is common-sense? Why do you think it is? Perhaps because you know some of the following facts.

  • Clutter and disorganization are against productivity, reduces the ability to concentrate.
  • A messy workplace causes anxiety, stress, and has the potential to foster a negative state of mind, like feeling overwhelmed.

Your good judgment tells you that an efficient workplace is cleaned and organized. Therefore, a lack of cleaning and organization is a visual indicator of inefficiency. You know that this condition has to change.

Two different ways to create changes

To improve housekeeping, you can buy a fancy computerized program or use a simple low-cost solution. Your new high-cost application will help you to create checklists, assign responsibilities and follow up on the cleaning activities. But it will not help you to ensure the workplace is clean and organized.

An alternative is to use 5S, a housekeeping and organization program. This program along with waste elimination and standardization are the basics of practicing continuous improvement. CI is about creating small changes using common-sense solutions that are easy to implement and follow. When you add up all those changes you will see a huge improvement in the overall performance of your business.