CI Tools

Take Baby Steps for Continuous Improvement

How do we learn to walk? The first step is crawling. As the babies become stronger will start pulling themselves up with the support of someone or something. Once they are up will learn balance and how to keep themselves up without any help. The next stage is walking with the mom or dad’s help, learning how to move their legs to take steps. Their curiosity will drive them to use that learning to wander around the house, using the furniture as support. They build confidence in their skills and keep practicing. Those small steps show them how much independence they gain, and they don’t want to lose it. One step at a time, they finally learn to walk.

The business process improvement is very similar. The goal is clear you want to thrive during good times and survive the inevitable challenges and economic downturns. You know that you need to improve your processes to accomplish on-time delivery of quality goods or services at the lowest cost. You want to change but do not have a clear idea of how. Like the baby learning to walk, you need to take small steps, one at a time.

Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions. Before you start complaining about the Japanese words, let me explain its origins. The USA Department of War created in the early 40’s a training program named Training Within Industry (TWI). It was developed within the industry to help ramp up the production of war materials and equipment. TWI introduced the concepts of job instruction training and job methods. Job instruction training teaches the “one best way” to do the work, which we now call standard work. Job Methods taught employees how to break down jobs into smaller steps questioning each one as a way to generate improvement ideas. As a result, a high volume of small incremental improvements from individuals was delivered.

After World War II, the American occupation forces brought in experts to Japan to help to rebuild their industry. Edward Deming introduced TWI, and the Japanese love it so much that they give it a Japanese name, Kaizen. Kaizen comes from two words, Kai (change) and Zen (good). It is commonly translated as a change for good or continuous improvement (CI). The strength of CI comes from the participation of workers, of all levels, in the business improving effort. These efforts are driven by three major activities, standardization, 5S, and waste elimination.

By approaching change in small, incremental steps, CI reduces the fear of change. Like the babies learning to walk, the small steps increase your confidence to keep trying until you find success. If you need help on your journey, reach out, I can help!

This article was originally posted by Jina Rivera in Organization and Efficiency Solutions.

CI 101

What can I do for my business now?

These days we are living a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Uncertainty is the word of the day, every day.  Anxiety levels are higher than ever, everybody is wondering what is going to happen when the pandemic is over, and we go back to our “normal” lives.  For small business owners, there is one question constantly bouncing inside our heads.  Would I still have a business?   I don’t know the answer to that or many other questions, but I do know what not to do.

I know that this is no time to waste my energy thinking in all the what if.  There is nothing to gain but more anxiety, trying to imagine a world where I do not have the means to bring food to my family or pay for our house.  I also know that in difficult times it is worth focusing on the positive things.  

What is positive about this pandemic?  For one we have time to do those things that we always say, I love to have time to do.  Of course, things that we still can do within the social distancing and CDC parameters.  It is a good time to pick up that hobby or home project you never have time for.  It is also time to clear your head and separate yourself from the challenges coming ahead.  It is important to recharge before you can focus on the fight ahead.  One thing is sure, the economy, will not be the same when we reopen for business, we have to be prepared.

Focus your attention on all the positive things you can do to strengthen your operation without investing more money than you are right now.  Here are a few examples.

  1. You can do virtual networking to get in touch with your old contacts to say hello and make new ones.
  2. While you reach out, does anybody need your help?  Collaboration is a good way to create long relationships, a network of people that can help when you needed the most.
  3. Read a new book, learn, and change what you can. 
    1. What your customer reviews in social media are telling you?  What do you need to improve?
    1. Do you know your customers well enough to anticipate if their needs will change?  Create a new marketing plan using social media.
    1. Analyze your business performance and assess your business.  What do you need to improve?  There are several applications that you can use to communicate with your team and work together on improvement ideas.
  4. Learn about the different programs and aids the Small Business Administration and local governments are offering.
  5. Revisit your business plan and update it.  Adopt a new strategy, set new goals, and prepare a plan in tune with reality.

I humbly suggest that you read about continuous improvement and how it can help you to navigate through the storm.  Lean was born in a time of need; Toyota was facing bankruptcy when Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno created it.  Continuous improvement is not easy or magical, but it has been proven to work in any industry, any size, anywhere.  At moments like this, it worth more than ever to try something new, like CI.