Key Ingredients For Implementing a Successful Continuous Improvement Effort

Greg Flickinger and Ugo Mgbike, of Snyder's-Lance, talk about how to make continuous improvement part of the fabric of your company's culture – not the program of the month.

By Greg Flickinger and Ugo Mgbike, Snyder's-Lance

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Once the thinking and methodology is firmly rooted, people will often begin to troubleshoot and problem-solve by adapting their way of thinking. At this point, it has become the new cultural norm and the form can become a burden, especially for simple to intermediate issues. The structured form may be used or required for certain triggers or for more complex problems, but the everyday use is embedded in the workforce as a new cultural norm.

The real magic of CI is that it is "structured common sense." It teaches people more effective, systematic thought and sequential methods for both simple and complex problem-solving. As CI takes hold and finds application, the approach must change and adapt as the culture changes and adapts.

If the CI effort becomes exclusively focused on the forms and the process, it can quickly become an activity-based program that will in time slowly fade away and give rise to the next branded organization improvement effort. The workforce likes to refer to this as the "program of the month." After a few rotations, they will have learned to "wait it out," making future efforts even more difficult.

Some organizations will go beyond setting pure performance goals and will set goals around specific CI tool use. For instance, a plant may commit to completing five Autonomous Maintenance (AM) projects or increasing the use of Focused Improvement (FI) by 20 percent. The first problem is that goals should not be set to accomplish tasks. Tasks are used to accomplish goals and targets, but the task alone should not qualify as a goal. This approach will have an unintended consequence of incentivizing the task and can quickly spin an organization into an activity based culture.

At a previous organization, I once saw a communication for a promotion of an individual that only contained recognition of increasing activity. The company communication detailed how many more instances of CI tool use the person had created, but never mentioned sustained results in scrap reduction, system performance or dollar savings. The intent of recognizing increased tool use was a good one, but the unintended consequences of recognizing activity over performance reinforced the wrong behaviors across the organization.

The most effective and sustaining use of CI based tools is when the team leverages them to achieve a performance goal or objective. CI tools are key enablers, but should not be the singular goal. Goals and objectives aimed at increasing tool usage will undermine the very program they are meant to build.

This CI effort succeeded

An example of a successful engagement-based CI process application can be drawn from the Snyder's-Lance plant in Burlington, Iowa. The plant leadership deployed CI tools with specific intent to support an improved approach to accomplishing the work. Operators and maintenance personnel were engaged in using CI tools to systematically address manufacturing floor opportunities with a laser focus on processes to decrease production scrap and equipment downtime.

The goal was to leverage the CI process to develop an environment where production employees take ownership of equipment and processes. The leadership understood the focus was a culture transformation of a longstanding, solidly performing organization to an even better-performing organization. The launch was fundamental: conducting a plant-wide total productive maintenance (TPM)-focused deep cleaning training and exercise with the hourly employee groups and their team leaders. The teams learned about Cleaning, Inspection, Lubrication and Tightening (CILT) as standard work practices, which became employee-owned standard practices.

The "how" centered on:

  • Cleaning to expose deterioration and contamination
  • Inspection by visual or measurement to detect defects
  • Lubrication to minimize wear and breakdown due to friction
  • Tightening identified loose parts that can create major problems during production processes

The leadership embedded a robust communication structure to enable reporting of abnormal or defective conditions. Associates were educated on how to not only use but to create daily and weekly assignment work sheets so the organization could effectively track data and generate meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs).

In conjunction with establishing an inclusive process supporting the "how," leadership ensured the "why" was fully understood. Teams were educated on the relationship they would be establishing to increased productivity through decreasing scrap, machine breakdowns and on-the-job accidents. Many associates welcomed the ideas and not only understood but experienced the benefits of successful CILT implementation. The leadership spent the extra time and effort required to engage people in a meaningful way, building not just compliance but true commitment in the form of ownership. People experienced the benefits in their daily work and understood the extended benefits of competitive advantage in the marketplace.

The next step in CI foundation-building was education and implementation of Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and Kaizen. Early successes in Why-Why or 5-Why were facilitated and well supported by leadership allowing ownership transition to the teams. The teams started to execute the process on their own and actually demanded the use of the process whenever faced with manufacturing problems such as line breakdowns or quality issues.

Seeing the value and the impact on the daily operation, the associates pushed to ensure support was available to determine and correct root cause issues in a timely manner. Education on the use of broader scale tools such as Kaizen was also conducted. As momentum continued to build, more and more employees requested inclusion into Kaizen teams.

One of the most significant wins was the use of the 12-Step Kaizen methodology from the Japanese Institute of Preventive Maintenance (JIPM) to solve a six-year chronic performance issue on a major equipment component in the plant's largest throughput line. This February, we formed a cross-functional, associate-based Kaizen team that formed and systematically followed the framework of the 12-Step methodology:

  • Identified losses using the plant, department and line loss trees.
  • Defined the theme and prepared the justification for the Kaizen process on the equipment.
  • Detailed the equipment's principles of operation and prepared a full process line layout
  • Detailed the current situation of the equipment, creating documentation and learning in the form of 5W+2H (what, when, who, where, which, how and how much) and One Point Lessons.
  • Defined goals in terms of gaps between the equipment's actual and ideal situation.
  • Established a hypothetical case framework, using Gant Charts to show planned steps vs. time required for the Kaizen process.
  • Analyzed the equipment's problems with data and sample collection, using an Ishakawa diagram (fishbone) and "Why-Why."
  • Developed countermeasures and action plans to correct the identified problems.
  • Implemented countermeasures based on identified root causes.
  • Checked results, using performance data and KPIs.
  • Developed new standards, established new procedures, established education opportunities and created online preventative maintenance processes and checklists.
  • Developed future plans for replication and identified future opportunities.

At the end of a focused three-day process, the team embarked on step 9, which was the implementation of the countermeasures based on the root causes of the identified problems. The process resulted with the elimination of the long-term chronic equipment problems, contributing to a 61 percent reduction on the total line downtime.

The associates took complete ownership of the process and have taken great pride in the results that have been achieved. Application of the same fundamental and inclusive approach across the facility has contributed to a total scrap reduction of 26 percent, as well as improvements in quality, consumer complaints and service to sales. Improvements are continuing as associate ownership and participation continues to build. Pull has grown to the point that time and resources have become the rate limiting bottleneck. Associates have created the results and now not only believe but understand they can control their performance. They feel a sense of pride and relevancy that is reflected in the plant culture.

Do not lose sight of the objective of CI. The objective is to create continuously improving performance and sustained gains. CI is essentially the playbook. You teach the team how to execute the plays and help them understand the best situations to run each play. The team must execute and adapt each play to the situation at hand. To achieve sustained performance gains, the focus must be on the people. The process is important, but without the people, the process can do nothing.

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