CI Implementation - Pitfalls to Avoid


To date, I have seen a handful of successful attempts at companies adopting continuous improvement. I have seen dozens of mediocre / failed attempts.

It is not by chance that CI (or lean) initiatives succeed or fail. As a consultancy LEC has become very capable at creating plans for CI implementation that will land and will continue to add value years after we have left the building.

The fundamental reason that CI initiatives fail is that they are really very difficult. Ops managers can attend lean practitioners’ courses (or similar) and learn the basic principles within a week. They will then entirely underestimate the tremendous amount of discipline and creativity that will be required to deliver value through CI and to make an initiative sustainable.

In addition to this misapprehension I frequently see CI being attempted to run in separation from its factory’s core MCRS (management, control and reporting systems). In effect:

“Here is the way we run our factory - we also do some continuous improvement work.”

At its highest aspiration, CI / lean thinking should be as present in everyday factory decision making as plan attainment and safety. A lack of integration generates 2 problems that frequently cause the downfall of CI:

1/ By not making CI a central mechanism it will be perceived to be optional. Therefore, when the factory is next experiencing some sort of modest crisis (as most factories find themselves multiple times every year) the CI efforts will be temporarily put on hold. Once the crisis has been resolved you will then struggle to recover the momentum that has been lost:

“Doing CI well is really difficult – if it is optional then why should I bother?”

2/ As much factory info as is made available by the MCRS should be viewed through the lens of CI. By separating out CI from your MCRS, problems will receive the ‘CI treatment’ only by exception. By contrast your MCRS should be robust enough that the problems that require structured problem solving are evident from the data. You should then be able to trust the manufacturing teams to resolve them routinely and autonomously. Granted, this is a level of maturity and sophistication that will be hard earned, but you will never reach this level if CI and the MCRS are seen to be separate.

Whilst TPM is not a model that will suit everyone (the resource required make it very prohibitive for most small / medium manufacturers) it does do a very good job at integrating CI with daily operational management.

Below are a few recommendations for factories that intend to launch / reinvigorate CI:

  • CI must be built upon the foundation of a strong MCRS. If you haven’t got the fundamentals of: performance management, inter-shift communication and downtime control in place then CI will not be the answer to your problems.

  • Develop your understanding of CI infrastructure and set reasonable, definable expectations as per how this will interact with your existing systems and departments. Too often, companies will push responsibilities for the whole thing onto a CI Manager who in turn is expected to do everything by themselves. By appointing one, companies often expect a step change in performance and are confused when it doesn’t appear. The role of CI manager (debateable as to whether it should even be a role) is to orchestrate events and support functional managers with extra expertise. Functional managers should know (through usage of their MCRS) what needs to be done, although they can be forgiven for not necessarily knowing how.

  • Data is important. The role of data within your MCRS, the calculations that you use for your KPIs and the data that you draw upon all really matter. They need to be illustrative enough to: a) demonstrate the problems on the shop floor and b) demonstrate the improvements that your teams are making. If there is no faith in the accuracy / relevance of the data, then there will be no motivation to improve those figures.

  • Effective CI will take a tremendous amount of effort both at the outset and on an ongoing (continuous) basis. Ensure that you have the necessary talent and resource at all levels of the factory with time available to engage in data analysis and structured problem solving.

  • Start small and build. Most of your operational problems will ultimately be resolved by those closest to the shop floor. The method therefore is to engage, empower and enable these men and women to problem solve. You will achieve this better by initially resolving smaller issues, thereby developing skills and confidence.

  • In 2019 you can all but guarantee that you will not be the first person to have attempted CI. Many of your experienced operators and engineers will be cynical when they hear the same catch words and ideas repeated (think of it as ‘initiative fatigue’). You will not convince them otherwise with words alone; you will need to lead them.

The difference between a manager that can establish valuable and sustainable CI and one that cannot will not be that one has an accreditation in black belt six sigma. It will that one has the passion necessary to learn about the tiniest details of their operation, the discipline required to take on an initiative that will never end and the leadership ability to make sure that their teams care as much as they do.

And if you feel as though you may need some help with that, you can always contact us.

Mat AllmanComment