Improvement can start small as well as big

 “Everyone has two jobs – the job itself and to improve the way the job is done” – George Simpson.

We are used to the idea of delivering improvement through transformation projects but improvement should also start small – within the team, the process and the job. If improvement is to build in this bottom-up way, it needs to start with recognising and actioning the ideas that arise in the activities of the everyday.

A number of years ago I was the manager of a manufacturing facility within the subsidiary of a multinational. There was a company-wide Total Quality programme and as part of this we were measured monthly on the number of improvement ideas we generated and how many of these were implemented. My team was a strong and committed team and yet to my surprise the measures showed that we rarely generated and implemented new ideas.  I decided to change this and focused on identifying and recording the ideas which I knew we were having.

We created a new agenda item in our weekly management meeting in which we began to track the improvement ideas we generated in the meeting. We listed the ideas on Post-It notes and placed them on a flip chart sheet with columns covering the 7 stages for handling an idea – new ideas, accepted, plan, do check, act, completed. Each Post-It had the date the idea was noted and who was actioning the idea. Each week we looked to move the Post-It notes across the columns from left to right. We especially tried to focus on generating and recognising ideas that were straightforward rather than the large improvement ideas that can often dominate but which can disempower bottom-up improvement.

This approach had an incredible impact.  Not only did we make many improvements but we created an enthusiasm which each of my managers took to their teams in turn – the flip chart sheets appeared in each team area around the factory and so improvement ideas were generated and implemented in a truly bottom-up way.

This taught me a valuable lesson.  Whilst transformational improvement starts with structured organisation-wide programmes, continuous improvement builds from the enthusiasm and  commitment of leaders and staff, team by team, across the organisation.

Andrew Kearns

Hartswood Management Ltd

Removing the roadblocks to delivering real improvement

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