Improving the Improved


Mary Ann is one of the companies most aggressive and effective Kaizen practitioners. So it was quite disappointing when I found her very upset with Irv, her boss.  She told me when she suggested opportunities to improve the assembly cell she works in, Irv told her “come on Mary Ann, we just improved that (2 years prior) and exceeded all our goals…safety, quality, cost and delivery targets surpassed.  It is good enough now, maybe next year we can consider your ideas, but there is no time now, we are too busy to do that all over again.”  Mary Ann left this meeting in tears.  “They stopped caring” she said, I her mind, and perhaps in many other minds, the rhythm and practice of improvement was dead.

A very sad story.

I hear this type of talk all the time:

  • We already did 5S
  • We are already fast, why go to the expense of getting faster.
  • We tried that concept and it didn’t work
  • I know we are having problems with the J line, just keep plugging along so we can get caught up.  We can improve things next year.

Management, this is the time for you to step up.  Improvement is not self-perpetuating, it stops, for many reasons.  It is your job to notice when it stops and act.  Most of us are aware of how difficult to keep everyone practicing continuous improvement while shipping what our customers need at the same time.

There is a rhythm to improvement.  Regular short burst of practicing improvement are key. It is your job to notice when it stops and react.  Focus on measures, goals and challenges.  Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata can be a powerful guide.

“We have already done that” is the enemy of improvement.  However continuous improvement is about improving the improved.  When the spirit is lost and resistance to improvement rears its ugly head ex it is time to “go see”, directly observe current conditions, ask the people doing the work about what makes their job difficult.  Do they have what they need when they need it?  What about rework?  Being there, observing and connecting with the value adders will find opportunities to improve, little ones but opportunities.  Make improvement a habit.  Make the process fun.  Measuring all improvements.

Thank the people who do the work.  That is how we can improve the improved.

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