Apr 30 2013

I’ve had a few conversations over the last few weeks with people starting out on their journey & assuming that each change they make will be the last on that particular aspect of their business. One firm thought that the layout of a maintenance cell would be a one time event & that they had to get it right so that they never had to change it again. Another firm, on the second S (Seiton, Set in Order or Straighten & others I am sure) thought they should immediately paint the floor for the location of some kit. In both cases & in several others I had to remind them that while we want to produce our products right first time, that in Continuous Improvement/Lean what we change & standardise today, might easily become a problem tomorrow as other processes change, the product changes, new technologies become available or even that we made the wrong change and will have to revert or find a new solution.

One of the paradoxes of Lean is that while we want to have standards, need standards to enable true improvement (how can you improve something if it doesn’t have a starting point, a standard), each new standard is only the current best practice. That any change we make is likely to be changed again as we grow & learn on our journey. The first business area above has agreed to “trial” the new layout for a few cycles (they work in weeks, not minutes), the other used floor tape & it was a good thing, within an hour they realised that they had to move the location to accommodate other kit that would be placed in the area.

The PDCA cycle is exactly that, a cycle, it is not a one time event. We Plan our change, Do it, Check the results & Act by either standardising the new process, layout, solution etc, or going back to our analysis & implementation to determine how/where we went wrong. Once complete, we start again. The benefits of the process are both an improvement in business outcomes (reduced waste) AND the knowledge that we gain by going through the process – even when we get it wrong. Like Edison used to say “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It is the learning in the process that really provides the benefits to the organisation in the long term as people get better & better at solving problems by learning from the mistakes as well as the successes – and thus each cycle should be thought of as a success as long as we do actually learn from it.

PDCA is a powerful process that done right will enhance our understanding of both our businesses and ourselves. Sadly we focus too much on the business benefits and not enough (or at all) on the personal development that comes from each cycle. We are pursuing perfection.  In doing so we must accept that it is unattainable, that everything can be improved, and thus each and every improvement, is not perfect, but leaves room for further improvement. Follow the cycle, Plan, Do, Check, Act & repeat – A recipe for success as long as we learn along the way. The only failures are those in which we fail to learn from the process.

photo credit: [ Mooi ] via photopin cc

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