Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts with the label continuous improvement

Do you look like you carry out continuous improvement?

This might sound like a stupid question, but do you? How would you tell? Here are some clues, see how many you can recognise: You have a team the spends part of their time working on continuous improvement projects . You have a clear list of continuous improvement projects. You have a priority on said list of projects. People in your business talk about improvement projects on a regular basis. They talk about continuous improvement without prompting! New ideas are captured systematically. New ideas are generated through both formal business activities and informally through suggestions from the team. Progress would be visible. Data from business key performance indicators generate new opportunities for improvement. You celebrate, and promote, the successes from your improvements. This list isn't exhaustive, of course. But, what this list should do is help let you know if you are a business that looks and feels like you embrace continuous improvement. If you aren't doing at leas

Be accurate with your requests; be effective

I had to raise a support ticket on behalf of a consulting client today. I typed in the issue that was being faced. My client seemed happy. Then, I carried on typing and put in what I wanted from the person at the other end. I didn't tell them how to do their job but I told them the result I was seeking. "Why are you telling them that?" my client asked. "I want them to give me what I want" I replied. "We don't normally do that" I was informed. "How does that work out for you?" I enquired. Blank look. The IT support company phoned us, surprised at the ticket they received. "That's the best ticket we've had in ages" they gushed. Long story short, the IT improvement was made shortly thereafter, with no further changes required. It was only a small thing, to add the extra couple of details, but it made big difference to the outcome. This is the precise reason that I wrote the book What Does Good Look Like? I saw the same issu

The Reverse Fishbone

My latest book has just been released. It's called The Reverse Fishbone and looks at how we can get the most out the fishbone analysis tool when we use it for goal setting. It's a great way to engage your team with improvement objectives and is superb when defining the winning recipe for your business. The book is free on the Kindle platform from today until Sunday. About the author: Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes and embracing Kaizen. Giles is also the author of Effective Root Cause Analysis and ' What Does Good Look Like? ' .

Find an improvement opportunity, learn from the opportunity

Last weekend I visited a local visitor attraction. The time was approximately 2pm and I was greeted by a sign that read: Last admission 2:15pm; car park closes 3:00pm. If this was the case, I wasn't going to have much of a visit. When the I reached the top of the queue and met the car park attendant, I asked for confirmation of the closing time. Apparently it was 5:00pm. From a little more discussion, it turned out that the sign was for an event the previous weekend, where they had shortened the opening hours. I jokingly offered to remove the sign, which was politely refused. When I left, the sign was still there. So, apart from the question about how many people didn't bother to find out if the site was open longer, what is the take away from this little story? Why I wrote Effective Root Cause Analysis At every level in the organisation it is possible to take responsibility. I see all too often people passing responsibility on. This can happen up and down the chain of command.

Persist at an improvement opportunity until you are victorious

When you start generating improvement opportunities, it can be tempting to flit between activities. For many people, the starting of continuous improvement activities is exciting. Planning out improvements, thinking about what could be. This can be motivating and, for some people, more interesting than doing the work to deliver the improvement. During the delivery of the improvement there will undoubtedly be: Frustration Learning Friction Experimentation Bouts of looking foolish Backtracking Winning I see too many organisations that dabble with improvements. Great ideas, poor execution. Persisting with an improvement, until it is done, is a strategy that most of us can benefit from. After all, if you don't deliver the improvement, you won't get the results. If you find that you have lots of loose ends in your business, then I recommend you reflect on this post and decide how you want to do things differently going forward. If you want some additional strategies to help you del

Using stupid questions for CI idea generation

You know that phrase about there being no such thing as a stupid question... Well, do you have a collection of these 'stupid questions' in your business that you use? What do I mean when I say 'use'? Some of the stupid questions we have heard in our business can also be perfect to launch continuous improvement thinking from. What are the questions you have in your business that your team have learned not to ask anymore? Here are some I have heard recently, in hushed conversations... How can we achieve double our current profit margins? Why do we have to do all of these steps in our process? What happens if we embrace our mistakes? Why don't we get rid of our bad customers? How do we deliver our products in half the time? I think all of those questions could be used to stimulate some interesting conversations... if you can get past the look of incredulity on your colleagues faces. What stupid questions could you ask in your business, to provoke some alternative ideas

Do you teach your team to 'fish'?

When you are leading continuous improvement projects , it can sometimes feel lonely if you seem to be the only one outputting ideas and options. Talking to yourself... that's how it can feel. A really good strategy, to get your team involved, is to share some building blocks with them. Instead of feeling like you need to provide a working solution, teach your team to 'fish'. Can you remember that phrase? “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We can change it to something like this: "Give a team a solution and they'll continue to expect you to produce all the solutions; teach a team building blocks of continuous improvement and you can unleash them on all your future challenges." I might be taking some liberties here, but I think you get the gist of what I am trying to say. There is a trade off with doing continuous improvement and teaching ideas, but getting this balance (between learning and impl

How many steps do you need to achieve your improvement objective?

One of the curious things I see in business is the planning for improvement objectives (or any other kind of objective, for that matter). Well, I say curious. That's probably the wrong word... Often I see no planning for an objective. This is how it looks to me: In the above image, something magical is expected to happen. No input from anyone (let alone management!). The result just appears. You'll know that this rarely works, so excuse me for stretching this scenario to its irrational extent. Reality says that the image below is what should happen: So, you might be thinking that this is stupidly obvious, so let me pose a question for you: "How effective is your planning to achieve your objectives?" Do you include all of the steps? Do you assign responsibilities? Do you determine deadlines for the tasks? Do you review progress regularly? If your planning looks a little more like the top image, please take stock of what you do and what improvements you can make. And,

Do you embrace incremental change?

There are a number of ways to look at change. 1. Wait until what you are going to do is perfect, then launch the change. 2. Accept 'winning ugly' and incrementally improve what you are doing until you are satisfied with the results. Option 1 is sometimes required, but only when it is a specific requirement of the change project. The rest of the time, option 2 is available to us. But, when you over think the process of change, or you have bosses that want to see results immediately you can end up with option 3; no results. Let's think through option 2. Today you don't have the improvement. Tomorrow you could have a slightly better version. This could be repeated day after today, until one day, you have the result you need. Very few of us have time to stop our day jobs and dedicate ourselves to improvement projects. So, this strategy can work for the majority of us. If you find yourself being stuck with your changes, try embracing incremental change a little more. Giles

Would you spend the money, if it was yours?

This is a great continuous improvement question . When you are looking at spending money, this question can often be the one you need to make the right decision. Is there a better way to spend the cash you have available to you? Are there other options that you have yet to explore? Are you committed to the solution you have put forward? If this was your money, and this was the option to go for, you know the answer would be "yes" to the original question. You would know that spending the money would be the right thing to do. If you feel hesitation when you think about this question, you know that you have more work to do. An old boss of mine asked me the question once. That's all it took for it to sink into my brain. At some point, as your career progresses, every decision becomes easier to see as a financial one. When you are looking at the pros and cons of an investment / purchase / decision, there will be a financial impact. So, if you are committed to the decision, as

Do you know all of the steps in your process?

Of course, I hope you say 'yes!' to this question. But, too many people in our businesses don't know all of the steps. Why might this be: Are the steps too confusing? Are the steps not visible to staff? Are the steps not taught to your team when they join? Are there too many options, to be able to define the steps? Are the steps kept inside the heads of a few team members? If your results are suffering as a result of a lack of knowledge inside your business, use these five questions as a way to reflect. Thankfully, once you  have worked out which one is most likely to be your problem, you just need to flip the situation around to define your strategy: Simplify. Promote and use visual aids. Revamp your induction. Standardise. Write it down. The benefits from having clearer processes revolve around improved customer satisfaction, better profits and less dependency on individuals. If this kind of situation sounds good to you, check out my book Losing the Cape . It looks at opt

Are you a master of consistency?

One of my consulting clients made a statement during a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) review session: "Consistency is the key" I agree with them. In their case, this wasn't happening at the time they made the statement. It was something they had to work towards and something that paid off for them. What happens when you aim to be consistent? Standards within the business get lived up to. Staff know where they stand. Management becomes easier. Policies mean something. Incongruities evaporate. Even better, consistency can lead to: Higher profits Happier customers A feeling of moving ahead with your plans. I always tell my consulting clients that 4/5 is a pretty good place to aim for at the outset. Whilst you are working on your continuous improvements you will find obstacles in your way. Look at each obstacle and remove it. Your consistency will raise to this level if you repeat this process. If you are thinking that managing all of your obligations is too onerous at this

Filtering your improvement list

I was recently presented with a client's list of improvements for 2024. It was a good list, there were plenty of meaningful items on there. They had a problem, however. They didn't know where to start. If you have read my books , or my blog posts, you'll know that I am a big advocate of proper prioritisation of improvements. Our PDCA Complete continuous improvement platform has a built in prioritisation tool (the BCS scoring system ). I really do think it is important that you know what you should be working on first. So, back to my client's list. Before we even had to prioritise anything, a clean up of the list was in order. There were items that were: Strategic in nature. Waiting for a director to make a decision and set policy. Outstanding tasks, that just needed mopping up. Urgent items that needed doing now but weren't projects. Once the team got clear about what was what, prioritising the strategic projects was straightforward. If you have a similar situation

Mimicry and continuous improvement

When you find yourself in a tricky situation, and you aren't sure how to improve the situation, try mimicry. We know people that have their act together. We know people that have great ideas. We know people that keep their cool under pressure. So, when you are next struggling for inspiration, use your 'continuous improvement role model'. What would they do? How would they approach the improvement? Who would they call upon for help? Use these prompts to borrow their insights and come up with a new way to approach the problem. If you are looking for more ways to generate continuous improvement ideas for your business, and manage them through to fruition, then check out my book Effective Continuous Improvement . Available from Amazon and iTunes About the author: Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes and embracing Kaizen. Giles is also the author of Effective Root Cause Analysis and

Don't skimp on the preparation

How many times have you seen someone struggle at work because they haven't carried out proper 'preparation' for their work? I see it all the time. The funny thing is that the people that tend to have these problems say they don't have time to carry out the preparation. So, how do they have time to fix the problem they have just caused? Many times it is the employer that has to pick up the cost, which is frustrating for so many reasons. What kinds of tasks would benefit from better preparation? The list could be massive, but let me share with you a few of the regular issues I see: Not ordering materials in a timely fashion. Not speaking to colleagues to organise schedules, to complete projects. Not reading reports prior to circulation. Not reading the full specification prior to jumping head first into a contract. Not asking 'who would this impact' before changing job roles in a business. Do you experience the same kinds of things? So, what preparation could you

Embrace the stumbles associated with continuous improvement

Every time a change is introduced, or a system tweaked, there is the chance for a stumble. This stumble might be a mistake, an inefficient or ineffective method, or complete confusion. Or something similar! In short, teething pains are to be expected. But, the point I want to make is, don't throw the towel in. This experience is normal, and a key part of the continuous improvement cycle (aka PDCA cycle). The whole point of the PDCA cycle is to: Plan a change / improvement . Do some work, to make progress with the plan. Check what the results are and evaluate them. Act differently to get a different result and then start the cycle again. Many businesses give up when an improvement doesn't work on the first attempt. Often there is little persistence and rarely an embracing of the PDCA cycle. If this is something you have seen in your business in the past, let me offer a few words of support: Set appropriate expectations for your improvement projects, don't expect the finished

What do you need to add to your routine?

Several phone calls this month have ended up with people realising that the headache they have is down to a lack of routine in their business . The small things that haven't been addressed in the run up to Christmas are now crises. The boring tasks that didn't get done earlier last month have now caused problems for the production department this month. The jobs that a recently departed staff member didn't hand over have now paused a project temporarily. Being clear about what needs to be done, by whom and when is a simple management task. Doing it however... most businesses don't! Don't be the same as the masses. Figure out your routines and find a way to make them stick . Available from Amazon About the author: Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes and embracing Kaizen. Giles is also the author of Effective Root Cause Analysis and ' What Does Good Look Like? ' .

Who has responsibility for what?

Are the responsibilities clear within your business? Do your team know what their responsibilities are and what they need to do when? This topic crops up time and time again. It's also something that is easy to overlook. Getting this right means that you can have fewer arguments. When it is clear who is meant to do what, the hiding places diminish. The excuses and finger pointing reduce. It is also a great thing to maintain, as it makes it easier to replace people when they leave your organisation. It is a truth that the roles that people undertake often creep and expand over time. If you don't keep a track of this, you end up with gaps and loose ends when people leave. How can you keep a track of this? Two obvious options jump to mind: Keep all of your job descriptions up to date. Create a spreadsheet / table of  tasks versus person responsible. Make either of these items a routine and that's it, in short. Keep the responsibilities clear, find better ways to execute the r

It doesn't have to be perfect on day one!

A common issue that stifles continuous improvement , one that I have already witnessed in 2024, is perfection. I can understand how this comes about. In the workplace it is common for people to be yelled at for making mistakes. Over time, this becomes normal and we associate not achieving perfection with being told off. When it comes to continuous improvement we have an issue here. Very rarely will an improvement be perfect the first time around. Usually it will need to be refined and tweaked a few times in order to work as intended. But, as we embark on a new year, we have the opportunity to change our approach to continuous improvement. We can replace perfection with effectiveness. We can make something better and do it again and again. We can iterate our way to high levels of performance; we don't have to be perfect on day one. Trying to be perfect on day one stifles us. It can overwhelm us. So, if this rings a bell with you, perhaps you can change your attitude to improvement t

How many improvement projects can you handle at once?

It is an interesting challenge; how many continuous improvement projects can you handle at once? A better question is "how many projects should you handle at once?" I see many businesses struggling with their continuous improvement projects, especially after a Christmas break. Energies have returned. Focus is restored. A long list of things that need to be done refreshed. The problem that I observe is that many projects get started and few get finished. I use the word problem for three reasons: If you don't complete the projects you are unlikely to reap the rewards. Incomplete projects cause confusion amongst team members. Having a list of projects started, but not finished, can be demoralising after a while. There are conflicting demands on our time. We often have a day job to do. If you combine this with incomplete project definitions then you have a recipe for wasting a lot of time and resource. Available from Amazon So, what is a practical way to approach this dilem