The three perspectives of sustainable improvement

Observation #8

carpedia-observation-8When we look at organizations to understand where they might be able to make improvements, we do so from three different, but related perspectives: the process; the management system; and management behaviors. This turns out to be a critically important way to ensure that improvements actually sustain over a period of time. Problems are often more multi-dimensional than they first appear. To borrow the slightly over-used three-legged-stool analogy, solutions that only address one or two of the legs are inherently unstable.

Some years ago we were working for an injection-molding company and noticed that the crew shut down their machines 10 minutes before the end of each shift in order to wash up. Then the next crew arrived and spent the first 15 minutes of their shift cleaning out the machines because the plastic had congealed. Our simple solution was to do a hand-off at the shift transition to keep the machines running and eliminate the downtime and waste.

That simple solution took two full months to implement. Changing the process affected the way crews were scheduled (it also appeared to ask people to work more than they had previously): the way machines and work-in-process inventories were scheduled (planning standards and staging areas needed to be changed to reflect the new output expectations); and the way managers behaved (they now needed to be physically on the floor at shift change to make sure the transition ran smoothly). Co-ordinating all of the above between different shifts and different departments was more complicated than it looked on paper.

Therefore we always try to keep the three perspectives of sustainable improvement in mind when analyzing problems and developing solutions. From our experience, when you are considering changing methods, we recommend you think about the following:

  • How and where will the process physically change?
  • How does the change impact the way managers plan, execute or report on the process?
  • What new or different behaviors do you need from management to reinforce these changes?