One may perceive continuous improvement as a constant event at some point in a company's life. A project to implement, a training to attend, and there you go - you have reached your continuous improvement goal of the month, quarter, or year. We have found it to be the other way around. For specialists such as Michel Labrecque, CMP’s Human Resources Vice-President, continuous improvement represents more than that: it is a corporate culture that all companies need to activate for their own benefit. In fact, it is a must in a world where technology changes the realities at a speed never experienced before. Here’s what Mr. Labrecque shared with us about the concept and how it should be approached.
What Is Continuous Improvement?
Kaizen, the Japanese word meaning “change for better”, is the reference word used to name continuous improvement. This has been the case since Toyota, the Japanese automotive manufacturer, revolutionized the industrial world with its Toyota Production System (TPS) - which largely inspired the Lean Manufacturing philosophy.
A continuous improvement process is the constant work of transformation in order to enhance products, services, and operating processes. Kaizen can be implemented on a regular basis as mini-projects. This is considered to be the incremental approach. At the same time, continuous improvement can be applied at once in one global implementation. This is recognized as the “breakthrough” method. Furthermore, any element that directly impacts the client is constantly evaluated in order to be improved.
What is Continuous Improvement In The Workplace?
It’s OK to fail! Learning from previous mistakes and improving for the better is a step towards success. Do nothing and your company will disappear. Companies that were about to collapse are most likely the ones that become champions of continuous improvement. They know the true value of the concept and often take bold steps to succeed. Some of these companies have pioneered innovative ways to stay alive and competitive in fierce markets.
Continuous improvement in the workplace comprises two distinctive parts: the cultural part and the technical one.
Additionally, both parts have further ramifications that we are going to explore below. Even though the cultural and technical concepts seem rather different they intertwine into one seamless process that has to move continuously to work.
The Corporate Culture In Continuous Improvement
A clear mission and vision will help you better plan your continuous improvement projects. Your company’s values have to support your efforts. Quantifiable objectives and a follow-up of your indicators will ensure you are on the right path. In, How to Implement Agile Best Practices we break down the process of planning down to the smallest details so you can start your transformation.
Sometimes it happens that a company’s leadership is the one blocking kaizen efforts. This shouldn’t be the case as upper management should be held as a model for the rest of the organization. Changing for the better also means patience. You’ll have to be passionate about continuous improvement to better communicate your vision and ultimately make it a reality within your organization. After all, employees follow your way of doing things.
Your employees are your most valuable asset. You can’t succeed in a continuous improvement process unless your personnel is as passionate about it as you are. Their engagement will multiply your results.
Constant communication is a way to efficiently inform and motivate personnel. While some use whiteboards and paper to display daily progress data, others use digital boards and live data with instant updates. Driving engagement from your personnel provides constant top-down and bottom-up communication. See how easy it is to improve shop floor communication with work instructions and value your employees' input every step of the way.
Your Kaizen effort should be integrated into a value chain for you to eliminate wastes and be more productive at every level of your organization. Being more productive will please your clients and thereby make you more competitive. Sometimes it is as simple as that.
KPIs in Continuous Improvement
In order for your company to stay on track and measure the value achieved while pursuing improvement, we comprised a list of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). As they measure the success of your company in specific areas, one can initiate continuous improvement projects to enhance the company’s score in those fields:
- Health and Safety
- On-Time-Delivery (ODT)
Your customers are at the core of all your Kaizen projects. You need to know them as well as their needs in order to better satisfy them with reliable support, optimal quality, and great value for the money. Continuous improvement revolves around your way of achieving, and better, exceeding customers' expectations.
Applying and maintaining these practices will help you get the most out of your efforts to transform your corporate culture.
Read next how VKS helped Gerber Gear advance their continuous improvement pursuit.
The Technical in Continuous Improvement
Invented by Seiichi Nakajima, the pioneering father of the TPM (Total Productive Maintenance system), OEE (Overall equipment effectiveness) is a measurement that informs you about the effectiveness of your manufacturing operations. If your company has at least 85% OEE, it’s considered a world-class enterprise. This is actually an achievable rate as there are manufacturers that have over 90% OEE, Mr. Labrecque confirms. OEE is a great reason to trigger improvement.
5S is a workplace organization method that is inspired by the 5 Japanese words Seiri (sort), Seiton (set in order), Seiso (shine), Seiketsu (standardize), and Shitsuke (sustain). Developed in Japan, 5S is one of the flagship techniques of Just-in-time manufacturing, also known as the Toyota Production System (TPS), which deeply inspired the Lean Manufacturing philosophy.
Continuous improvement often involves technology, which is inseparable from progress. Implementing continuous improvement projects means aligning your company to world-class quality. Once again we turn to our previous article - How to Implement Agile Best Practices that will serve as a guide towards excellence.
Kaizen has a variety of lean production methods such as VSM (Value stream mapping), poka-yoke (Japanese expression meaning "mistake-proofing”), SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Dies), A3 problem solving, or standardization. Equip your team with the right tools!
In terms of standardization, at VKS we value feedback, and as our platform is a multilingual tool, that helps users capture and standardize their best practices in a digital environment, ensuring compliance and quality in production. As we support lean manufacturers with a digital work instructions solution, we also offer a multitude of capabilities such as live data, instant communication for quality management, and productivity monitoring that are ensuring a smooth continuous improvement pursuit.
Continuous improvement is more than a single project. It is a corporate culture that provides long-lasting benefits. Mr. Labrecque has witnessed companies that have made the switch to permanent kaizen activities and that are now experiencing significant productivity successes.
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