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By Tom Bloomer, Austin TX

(Mark's note: This is a submission from a blog reader, thought I would try an experiment here)

For any organization to function efficiently and to continue to show optimum growth, the organization must implement and maintain some type of continuous improvement program, some type of organizational standard and a true quality management initiative.

For years we have heard of and practiced the different philosophies. The TQM's, the ISO's, lean manufacturing, TPS, six sigma, the list can go on and on. The objective is the same. To continually improve your product, service, work environment, and ultimately, your bottom line, while reducing the costs it takes to produce. This sounds like common sense to most people. How an organization gets there is a matter of debate that can go on for hours.

I have worked in a few different organizations that have embarked on these tasks. I have been there from day 1 and worked through the troubles, went to the training seminars, classes and meetings that go along with it. Most of the time it seems to be the same hurdles that end up popping up and often stop an initiative in its tracks. (The main hurdle being the lack of management support, even though management swears they are contributing)

I will write about my vision of a true system, through my experiences. I will mention a lot of things like 5S, Lean, Six Sigma, Procedures, and Data Collection. I will not go into how to do these things as that would be a complete book by itself. It is best to get training on each one of these tasks individually.

First of all, the organization almost always starts off with a bang (before they fizzle out after a few months). They get everyone pumped up and motivated with the kickoff meeting (most of the time it is but it should always be off site to minimize interruptions). A President, Chairman, or some VP holds the meeting, and promises everyone that top management is behind the group. All and any resources needed to be successful are promised. It is stressed that this newest initiative is IT, and we are going to do IT, and nothing else will take precedent over IT.

This is very important. There has to be a kick off meeting, it has to be offsite. The group must include your most open minded, intelligent, and persuasive team members. During this meeting, the chair or the person holding the meeting must spell out every detail of the organizations plan. It will be his / her goal to get these team members on board and buy in to this new way of thinking, this culture change.

During this meeting, roll out the game plan. Answer these questions. How will we get organized? Hopefully through a 5S program. I have found 5S to be very beneficial in getting an entity organized.

Are our key members trained in management systems and what will do to further their training? Turn your organization into a learning organization. This is another crucial first step. Get members and employees to classes, hold classes onsite, organize reading groups. People naturally feel better about themselves if they are learning new things. They gain the self confidence needed to get out their and pass on the knowledge to others. At one company, we developed an education committee. We offered and encouraged classes to our employees that included work related and non work related topics. We taught everything from blueprint reading to cooking. We taught industrial math to auto mechanics. We started building up these employees that were going to be so important in the coming months and years. This helped us retain employees and showed them we as a company cared about their well being. I remember sitting in a class one day with the operators along with a VP. I think it was a Spanish class. It was being taught by one of our hourly employees. We also built a small library onsite. We subscribed to newspapers and magazines that these employees could read on break and lunch. Computer terminals were setup fro the employees to use during breaks and lunch.

Of course with this, you need to get your people to management systems training. Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, ISO, whatever classes, get the people to them and trained.

What steps will we take to achieve our goal? Spell out exactly what you want to accomplish. Reduce costs, write procedures, improve safety, and improve downtime through TPM. Holding Root Cause sessions. Improve the bottom line. Make lots of money. Continually improve your process.

How will we measure our performance?

This is very important. Everything you do needs to be measured. You have to be able to statically track all efforts. I won't go way deep into this as it is better explained through six sigma. A good book for all to have is SIX SIGMA FOR DUMMIES.

How do we get everyone working as a team?

Another very important matter and one that needs to be dealt with aggressively. All players need to be on board. There can be zero negativity. Everyone has to trust each other. We hired a specialist at this at one company I worked at. I remember sitting in a large conference room and discussing personal issues with everyone on our team. I remember us all having to go out dancing together. This involved people from plants in two different states meeting in a central location. We played softball, we went bowling. We stayed in hotels together. We became one. It worked. People who do not want to support the change or who fail do any part, must be dealt with accordingly. Fire them. Again these team building exercises must include the heads of sate, if you will.

Do we have procedures?

If you don't have written procedures or process maps, then get them written. Build quality circles to work on them. Get input from the floor, from the operators. Build the basics through flowcharts then go back and edit them until you have real written procedures for everything from hiring people, to firing people and everything in between. Taking inventory, ordering items, data collection, operation procedures for specific tasks on the floor. Everything needs to be defined, mapped, charted, and put into procedures. The procedures should be written very simple so anyone can understand. Test them by taking an employee from another part of your company, have them complete a task he / she knows nothing about, just by following the procedures.

At the meeting setup sub teams. Maybe your teams could be:

Safety, Maintenance or TPM, Education, Fiscal Responsibility, Procedure Writing Teams. Specific Process Improvement Teams. Hand out action items for the next meeting such as: Collect Data on a specific process in the factory.

After you have your sub teams, setup meetings with them and have them formulate a game plan on what items they are going to attack first. How are they going to measure their success? Statistics remember.

Meet weekly. Meet, Meet. Do not let team members miss meetings. Stay on top of it. Presidents, VP's, Plant Managers need to get involved. ATTEND BY CONFERENCE CALL IF YOU HAVE TO. Keep it going. Keep employees motivated. Keep them trained. Continuous improvement means continuously improving your employees and operators as well as your process.

Remember these:

  1. Whatever system your organization chooses to implement, search out and take advantage of any training pertaining to it.
  2. Do not let it slip away. When an organization fails on one of these endeavors, the organization will find itself worse off than when they started as employees will lose confidence in management.
  3. Become a learning organization. Read Deming, Juran and all the other Gurus. They all have something to offer. They all spent many hours on their philosophies.
  4. Start out with 5S. If you can't implement and maintain 5S, you will definitely fail at the others.
  5. Procedures for everything.
  6. Strive to continuously improve not only your process but your employees as well.
  7. Think SYSTEMS. You must have a system. Engage in systems thinking.
  8. Give the employees / operators attention, it will pay off.
  9. Every one of your key members should have read THE GOAL.
  10. Presidents and VPs must actively participate. Show support.
  11. Build Teams
  12. Stomp out negativity
  13. Build leadership. Leadership has greater rewards than managing.
  14. Use the 14 leadership traits: Justice, Judgment, Decisiveness, Integrity, Dependability, Tact, Initiative, Enthusiasm, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty, and Endurance.
  15. Measure.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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