Leading Process Improvement

Should process improvement be #1, #2, #3, or lower in priority for small manufacturing suppliers? Machine shops, fabrication, plastics, electronic assembly, circuit boards, etc. Whatever your business, if you’re a small family-owned company you have competing priorities. You may work on the floor part or most of the time, you may try to supervise and manage people who work for you, and some family members – it’s hard to picture yourself working in an office for more than a few minutes with so many competing priorities. And perhaps you never saw the business employing 100, 200, 300 – as the business transitions we are challenged to take on the new role of leader.

This blog will discuss the issues of being a leader. How to transition from worker to leader, what you need to know to set your priorities, how to build the business without losing control (that is if you ever had control).

I want to talk about process improvement, continuous improvement, process maturity, lean systems and implementation, 6S, flow manufacturing, just-in-time, pull systems, and more from a leadership perspective.

You have a wealth of experience so I hope you’ll contribute your comments as well.


3 thoughts on “Leading Process Improvement

  1. Leading Process Improvement – Michael's Blog on Leading Process Improvement

  2. As one who has made the transition from shop floor to Vice President of a small family owned precision machining business i personally have come to “learn” that process improvement needs to be at the top of our list. When i first came on board, not as Vice President, but in a postion to have influence on such things as Lean, and Continuos Improvement Programs, i felt or believed we never had time for those things, we have to stay focused on getting the work done, that was most important. What i have “learned” is, as we were slowly growing as a company, our work force was aging, the availability of qualified workers was decreasing, and the old way of running jobs by memory just wasn’t cutting it anymore. We still have a long way to go but we have gone from no certification to ISO9001/AS9100RevC, have undergone Lean Training, and are currently working on being a completely 6S company. I have “learned”, and i put this in quotations because i was told these things, i just wasn’t listening, that for any business to flourish, you need too be continously looking for ways to improve. My last comment is this, i am not a person who has thrown all of this on my own shoulders and spear headed all of this alone, i can tell you, you need to get yourself surrounded with a team of people who are onboard with your vision and understand the importance of it all, and want to be a part of the success of the company in which they are employed.

  3. Kenneth – thanks for your comments. And congratulations on the great achievement so far. You make some excellent points that I will highlight.

    Standard Work – the sustainability of our companies depends on our ability to transfer the “brain trust” or “intellectual property” of how to do things (the best practices in our business evolved over years of hard work) from the brains of people who could retire or worse die at any minute to the standard work product of the company – process maturity is documentation, training/workforce development, certifications, work instructions, etc. By having a formal system for doing this, we ensure that we will keep these things in the company and build on them without concern that they will retire with the next employee/team member.

    The Quality of Our Leadership – most of us are not natural leaders and not riding a white horse. The best way to ensure that you continually do the things that great leaders do is to establish standard work for management. SEA defines 7 processes that need to be adopted as standard work for management (http://seaonline.org/Training/2011SEARoadmap.pdf) and these “remind” us daily and weekly of things that we need to execute on no matter what happens. Good leaders don’t get caught up in fire-fighting and lose track of the day and week to the point of abandoning their leadership best practices. We don’t stop doing regular strategic planning, or reviewing department and company performance, or developing our workforce – it’s not hard to be a good leader – the skills are the same as being a good machinist, or a good materials handler – we just have to establish and follow our processes.

    Sharing the Work of Improvement – SEA has documented the best practices of implementing a world class continuous improvement system. No matter how small your company you can share the job of leading improvement by adopting the roles of champion, process owner, and master trainer. Building a team for continuous improvement and reviewing their progress regularly is how you go from a “one-man-band” to a company-wide effort. What better way to ensure that you will continuously improve than to allocate 10% of everyone’s time to improvement and set a regularly review meeting to hear how everyone is doing?

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