Thursday, March 26, 2009

When are you done with Continuous Improvement?


Recently an individual who just witnessed several lean sigma project reviews asked, “When are you done with continuous improvement”?  The discussion that followed is worth summarizing to reinforce the idea that continuous improvement is just that, continuous.


My initial response was that not only must a company change; it must change faster than its competition.  Most everyone would all agree that companies are competitive and all want to be number one in their field.  Assuming that as a fact, the non-field leading companies are striving to improve to over-take the leaders.  Should the up and coming companies change and improve faster than the leaders, they will eventually over-take them. Without change, even companies that are number one in their field will eventually be surpassed. 


One person in the discussion likened this to a scene in the 1990 movie “Days of Thunder”, starring Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall.  The individual described one scene in which the pit crew chief (Duvall) was talking via radio to the racecar driver (Cruise).  The pit crew chief was complaining to the driver that he was going too fast and abusing the equipment.  The driver responded that he had not sped up, but everyone else had slowed down. By simply going a little faster than the competition, he finally passed all of those in front of him to become number one; winning the race.


Continuous improvement is a marathon and this marathon has no end, simply minor course adjustments as you continue in the race. 


We are in a changing and challenging time.  Many companies will be tempted to retrench and cut expenses by blindly cutting costs including eliminating their continuous improvement activities.  This is not the time to be timid, this is the time to aggressively attack waste by pursuing continuous improvement.  Less non-value added waste equals more profit.


For a company to be successful, they must have a strong culture that promotes continuous improvement.  They must strive to be better than they were six months ago while realizing that they are not as good as they will be six months from now.


I’ll close this post as I closed the discussion, with one of my favorite business quotes. “When the pace of change outside the organization is greater than the pace of change inside the organization, the end is near.”   John R. Walker



Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Standard Work, Education, and Lean Enterprise

Recently, the Dean of the college where I teach as an adjunct professor assigned the faculty the task of updating the syllabi and lesson plans.  As I worked on updating the documentation for my current class, it became clear to me how this activity is really nothing more than developing Standard Work for college classes.


Standard Work is a core foundational component of Lean Enterprise. If done properly, Standard Work will document the best practices while providing structure, reducing variability, and improving quality.  Simply put, Standard Work is a specific set of work instructions that enable processes to be accomplished in a timely, repeatable, and uniform fashion.  It defines the sequence in which the process activities are performed.


The Standard Work syllabus as defined by the Dean, identifies the course length, description, perquisites and objectives. It also defines the grading scale and criteria. More importantly, items such as grading scale, attendance, dress code, professionalism, academic integrity, student services, and IT help desk information become standard across the college.  While the details such as grading and evaluation criteria are unique to each course, the syllabus format is standard.  Even though the course specific detail is unique, all the syllabi for the courses in the institution have the same look and feel.


The Standard Work lesson plan as defined by the Dean, identities the course objectives for the week, the specific teaching objectives, and the activities that will be utilized to accomplish the teaching objectives. The Standard Work lesson plan lists each task (process step) in the sequence in which it should be performed and provides a detailed set of instructions for each activity.


So why is Standard Work important in education?  The answer is simple, it is important for the same reason it is important in business.  The Standard Work establishes the expectations for the activity while ensuring consistency and removing variability. The course material and expectations are independent of the instructor as the class carries the same syllabus and lesson plans regardless of who is teaching the course.  Employees and students (in the education world) know what to expect and what is expected of them. 


Some may try to argue that the use of Standard Work syllabi and lesson plans remove freedom and creativity from the educator. I would argue that this is false.  Properly implemented Standard Work is a foundational component for continuous improvement and as such, should be accompanied by an update process that allows for newly identified best practices to be incorporated into the documents. Therefore, all educators have the ability to introduce their thoughts by submitting revisions.  Once approved, the revised documents are then distributed and all educators and students receive the benefit of the newly identified course best practice.


Implementing Standard Work into an educational environment is innovative and challenging, but the results are invaluable.


Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group