Manufacturing organizations undertake process improvement efforts to improve quality, reduce costs, and meet ever-evolving customer demands. Many manufacturing leaders turn to specific quality improvement methodologies such as Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma, while others take a less formal approach. In either case, there are some core principles of process improvement that form the foundation for positive change. Here are 10 that will improve the probability of achieving the goals of your projects.
Align improvement work with the strategic direction of the business.
When business goals are clearly communicated by management, employees can look for improvement opportunities that will further those objectives. Close alignment also ensures management support and fosters independent decision-making.
Look for quick wins and make them widely viable.
While improvement efforts deliver benefits in the long term, it is easier to gain stakeholders' trust through short-term wins with noticeable impact. Emphasize improvement work that impacts areas of the business that will have a significant effect on performance, quality, cost, or service.
Create a business justification for each improvement effort.
Some manufacturing improvements can be made for little or no cost, while others require significant resources. Depending on each project's estimated cost and duration, it may be useful to prepare a detailed business case, including expected expenses and projected benefits.
Communicate the benefits for the process operators expected from each improvement project.
Improvement efforts should be as personal as possible. Kicking off each project should involve discussing how the change will help employees deliver their best work. Even if the improvement does not directly impact the workers, they should understand how something like cost reduction or quality improvement will impact the company's financial success, improving stability for workers.
Leverage improvement management technology.
Quality improvement in manufacturing is not an afterthought. It is just as crucial as managing all other aspects of the business. That's why technology designed to capture, implement, measure, and sustain improvement work is an essential element of any continuous improvement initiative.
Be prepared for resistance.
People balk at improvement efforts for several reasons. Change is difficult, and learning a new way of operating requires extra effort and thought. You may also find that people are afraid that close examination of processes will expose mistakes or incompetence. It is essential to be clear that improvement is targeted toward processes, not people. When people realize that improvement efforts are not punitive but instead intended to improve working conditions and outcomes, they will get on board.
Solve the right problems.
Just like a physician doesn't just treat symptoms without understanding the underlying cause, process improvements in manufacturing should be targeted toward the root cause of the issue, not just the resulting waste or defect. By finding the core reason for the problem, you'll avoid a patchwork of workarounds or band-aid fixes that don't resolve the underlying issue. The 5-whys is a simple yet effective technique for finding the root cause of problems.
Get good at risk management.
The ability to predict what obstacles and opportunities are likely in the future is essential for managing risk. Risk assessment is an integral part of each improvement project. What downstream impacts might arise from a process change? Are all stakeholders on board with the plan? If the change is not successful, is there a way to roll it back?
Broadcast improvements to keep team morale high.
Each improvement is cause for celebration. Sharing results widely is an excellent method for spreading the improvement mindset and strengthening improvement culture.
Measure the impact of each improvement.
Improvement in manufacturing can result in various benefits, including reduced waste, improved quality, increased customer satisfaction, faster cycle times, safer working conditions, and more. In any case, it is essential to measure any quantitative impact of change. This will help justify the cost of improvement and keep management engaged in the effort.
The application of these principles might look different from organization to organization, but in any case, they are essential to a culture that promotes and celebrates positive change. Whether your improvement approach is formal or informal, you can put these ideas to work for your organization.