Continuous Improvement Activities are a subset of Operational Excellence Activities, which enable an organization to optimize its operations and become a better supplier to its customers. In any organization, there is a drive to be the best there is, because other similar entities are after the same target.
Providing the highest value for the lowest possible price, is the primary purpose at the end of the day. A popular motivational speaker mentions that every day there’s a battle between hunter and prey. In a similar manner, every day there is a battle between suppliers and customers. With customers being as fickle as they are, organizations must do the best they can to ensure that they are continuously improving their delivery.
Continuous Improvement is a part of the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle that is inherent in Lean and Six Sigma Processes. Plan-Do-Check-Act is born out of the ISO movement, and is geared at ensuring that organizations have appropriate mechanisms in place to satisfy their customer in a measurable way. As organizations strive to keep improving, the actions involved in continuous improvement provide that marginal change that keeps an organization at the cutting edge of the industry.
In day to day operations, organizations ISO based organizations typically have a daily management system, which allows them to track the performance of critical targets. A process analyst, usually a supervisor, will assess the system during an event such as a morning meeting.
If the system is operating within appropriate bands, then no action is taken. If a continuous deviation is noted, critical action is taken in the form of a problem-solving activity. Problem Solving usually takes place in a small meeting, or on the fly, via the use of a pre-determined reaction plan that operations staff can follow. Once resolved, a system usually returns to normalcy.
So what happens if a customer suddenly changes their specifications or if it’s been identified that there’s a longstanding problem in the field to be addressed? What are the actions that an organization can take? This is where continuous improvement comes in
Organizations execute long term focused activities such as kaizens or focus plants, in an effort to address opportunities and changes that have a more longer-term focus. Kaizen events are usually three-day long events which identify a long standing problem, and map out a detailed action plan for its improvement. These are typically conducted in house by the resident Process Improvement Champion, and their chosen team.
A focus plant event is a longer event, usually on the order of magnitude of two weeks, which facilitates a detailed study of an organization in order to identify key strategic plans which can be implemented over the course of years, in order to keep an organization on the cutting edge of the industry.
Via incremental implementation, the appropriate process changes can be integrated into an organization’s operations in order to facilitate the key target of satisfying customers at the appropriate price point. It’s an interesting challenge in organization growth and development.