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by ronniekongs

continuous improvement model

Continuous improvement is basically getting better than you were in the past.  So, how is something better than it was in the past?
In my mind it is associated with morebetter, and faster.  In other words: I make more products with the same work, or I get a better quality product with the same work, or I can work faster with the same effort and therefore make more products and reduce my unit cost. 

In each case there may be a barrier, bottleneck, or something preventing you from making the improvement. While Root Cause Analysis is not always the right tool to resolve that barrier or bottleneck, it should be a foundation tool in the process of continuous improvement.

I believe that a facility’s or a person’s continual success is directly dependent on their ability to solve problems.

In Ron Moore’s book entitled “Making Common Sense Common Practice” he discusses three companies – an “A” company, a “B” company, and a “C” company. In his description, “A” company is the best of the best and “C” company is the one always lagging toward the back of the pack – making money in good times and struggling or failing in the tough times. Company “B” is in the middle of the pack.

Here’s a quote from his book:

“The difference between the best companies and the mediocre/ poor [companies] in this model is the emphasis the best companies give to the denominator (unit cost = cost/capacity).  That is, they focus on maximizing the capacity available through applying best practices and assuring reliability in design, operations and maintenance, and through debottlenecking.  They then use that capacity to go after additional market share, with little or no capital investment.  Note that in doing this, they also minimize the defects which result in failures and additional costs.”

The sentence in bold above is essentially saying that they aggressively follow a continuous improvement model of some kind to achieve that focus.

There are many tools available to a practitioner who is focused on  reliability improvement. However, in my experience coming from an industrial environment, effective problem solving has one of the highest returns for the dollars and time spent of any of the tools.

This is not to say that the other tools mentioned in Ron’s book are not valuable – in fact I spent a large portion of my career attempting to establish and institutionalize those tools and processes. But every time something doesn’t meet expectations, or your downtime is greater than expected, or a piece of equipment can’t provide the uptime you need, that is the definition of a problem that needs resolution.

Also, in my career I discovered that many of the continuous improvement tools would not work well unless some of the more blatant and repetitive problems were resolved first. The most visible of these is planning and scheduling. Trying to plan and schedule in a reactive environment is next to impossible because every time you try to schedule a job, it gets usurped by a failure somewhere. This is frustrating for everyone and leads to an uphill battle.

So I believe that if you look deep inside an “A” company you will find a continuous improvement model that supports problem solving at its core.

Many people would say that Toyota is such a company; and they have many tools at its disposal – one of them being the 5 Whys. This is simply a problem solving methodology that allows operators and others to fix problems at the appropriate level, thereby supporting their continuous improvement model. The 5 Whys problem solving tool was developed to support Toyota’s original foundation premise of “Eliminate Waste” which is basically what Ron Says the “A” companies are doing. They are solving problems by identifying causes for the waste and then putting in place solutions to eliminate it.

If you think about the automotive industry as an example, are they driven by continuous improvement due to competition?

Do you remember when you had to replace or set the points in a distributor on a regular basis?

Nowadays, through continuous improvement, there is no wear and electronic ignition has all but eliminated the need for that task…thereby eliminating waste and putting the original auto manufacturers ahead. The others had to follow suit in order to not lose market share or reputation.

The same thing happened with spark plugs. I haven’t change a set in quite a while since they started lasting 100,000 miles. You could make the case that it has cost companies money since they don’t sell parts anymore, however, I think anyone that didn’t move with these new technologies would have been left in the dust and lost market share.

As illustrated in the above examples, the best of the best are driven by continuous improvement to stay ahead of the game or to catch up quickly – no matter what the industry. This status is achieved through a combination of tools and problem solving techniques, with cause and effect being one that, in my opinion, should be at the core of your continuous improvement model.

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