Tuesday, April 6, 2010


"How do we sustain our improvements?" This is the billion dollar question. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me this, I could buy a cup of coffee by now. Since this topic is huge, I will address it in a few posts.

The most important element of any sustainment is human. Quite simply, people have to want the change to stick. If the people that have to use the new process don't want it to be successful, it won't be. It's a myth that most people are against change. What's true is that most are against meaningless, arbitrary or someone else's change. The next time you see your new process falling apart, ask yourself these questions:

1. Is it change or is it improvement? There is a difference. It's improvement only if the workers see it as "better", not just different. They have to believe there is a business reason for making the change that directly or indirectly helps the company, the customer and them.

2. Can you quantify the improvement opportunity? You need real measurable objectives. Without metrics, it is difficult to demonstrate actual improvement. For example:

Wrong: The objective is to improve our visual management of tools.
Right: The objective is to reduce walking distance, eliminate safety hazards and improve productivity.

Add targets for a bigger impact. Then measure, post and celebrate. It's also appropriate to communicate the qualitative results that make people proud of their project. For example: We reduced walking distance by 80%. We also are less frustrated and have found it's easier to train new people.

3. Did you involve all of the stakeholders? Remember, sustainability is mostly a human issue. People need to feel respected by the company. Respect doesn't mean that we just treat workers fairly and call them by their name. It means we believe they have something to contribute to the betterment of the business, and we give them the ability and opportunity to be a part of the problem solving activities. People don't argue with their own data and their own ideas. Often it's who decides, not what is decided, that's critical to success.

4. Is the leader of the area actively supportive? The key word here is "actively". The workers need to know they have the support of the leadership. The leadership must be seen, not just heard. The leader must understand how big the impact is when they take the time away from their "normal job" to spend time at the point of action. This behavior in the leader will create trust in the worker, leading to a belief they they are part of something important.

If you spend your time planning and executing your improvement project with only one thought in mind, it should be this: "How can we ensure everyone believes this new way is the best way?". Then design all of your planning and execution processes accordingly.