Now going back to my first question, is improvement activity something that has to wait for several things? No, not at all, but are the responses for an improvement positive or is it put aside for a later date? Typically the not good responses I have heard are, customer visits, year end or month end pressure, colleagues on leave, high attrition, preparing for corporate visitors, resignations, new recruitments, audits etc. I believe reasons for putting on hold or deferring improvements are plenty and sometimes never ending. I am sure that the question that arises is how a manager or leader decides if a particular initiative or improvement drive is going to deliver short term or long term benefits and has to be adopted as soon as possible. Probably there is no rule book for that, the short term benefit or lack of it may be obvious but the long term is important and needs thinking.
Consider running a taxi month after month for a few years, without giving a break for regular servicing or check up; the short term benefits and long term repercussions are obvious. To realize such issues in an organization, let's do a Murphy's Analysis. Let us look at all the possible ways a business can face problems. Here's a list of woes- increased customer complaints, high scrap rate, machine down time increase, attrition, poor efficiency, high labor cost, accidents, poor workplace organization, low skill levels, late deliveries, wrong shipments and many more. The effect of these could be decline in bottom line, poor share holder value, business unit being hived off or even risk to health and life. Having this knowledge we should be able to take a call on what initiatives can't wait and the process of sharpening the knife must go on. A business unit in a large multinational corporation cannot think of improvements after it has declared accumulated losses and is the verge of being shutdown or hived off.
I am not advocating any particular tool or approach here; the emphasis must be on visualizing the future and understanding what to improve. It could be as simple as a common sense approach to the latest improvement techniques or approaches; but we must be able to visualize the obvious and not so obvious effects of the initiatives; like the benefit of a power nap. According to a recent Harvard study, a 20-minute power nap has been medically proven to increase alertness and productivity as well as information retention- making it also beneficial for the bottom line. But how would a manager know that sleeping can increase bottom line? The organization must trust and depend on the people who are involved and knowledge of people, system development and process improvement. Dr.Deming says "knowledge in any country is a national resource. Unlike rare metals, which cannot be replaced, the supply of knowledge in any field can be increased by education. A company must, for its very existence, make use of the store of knowledge that exists within the company, and learn how to make use of help from the outside when it can be effective". He also says "waste of materials, waste of human effort, and waste of machine-time is deplorable; but the failure to use knowledge that is there and available for development, is even more deplorable."
We must use the people with knowledge to continuously and relentlessly drive improvements as specific initiatives or the weave them into the day to day activities of the organization because as Dr. Spencer Johnson, in his book Who moved my Cheese says, "Old beliefs do not lead you to New Cheese and Movement in a new direction helps you find New Cheese". So it's good to pause a bit, think, improve and move ahead.
Pradeep Kumar E.T. A Master Black Belt in Six Sigma , is the Country Manager- Operational Excellence with Tyco Electronics Corporation India Pvt Ltd. Feedback can be e- mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue BG78 Sept07