Building a Foundation Can Produce Great Results

I am amazed sometimes how companies or parts of companies can even operate.  I am asked to help them improve their processes which sounds great.  A close examination shows they really have no process that even exists.

I do believe that everything has a process.  So, what I mean by no process is the current one is not organized, inconsistent, unstructured, anything goes and just plain shoddy.

Some might say, you can’t improve something that is inconsistent because you need consistency to establish a baseline to improve from.  I believe establishing consistency is an improvement.

There have been times when all I have done is helped the organization develop a standard process to adhere to.  This standard process was used consistently by everyone in the process and great gains were achieved by nothing more than gaining high agreement on what was going to be done and how it was going to be done.

There is always one best known way to execute a process.  That may change as improvements are made.  If there can only be one best way, then by definition everyone that starts to follow this best known way will become more efficient.

What still surprises me, is how many processes still are not standardized.  This change alone can increase efficiencies across the process, gaining better results and making the person who standardized the process look like a genius.

Always make sure the foundation is laid before you start jumping to improvements.  And look at laying the foundation of a process as a big improvement.  Don’t underestimate the power of standardization.

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Posted on January 30, 2012, in Improvement, Principles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Matt, if I had a dime for each time I was asked to work with a team whose processes essentially boiled down to chaos I could have retired 10 years ago. A purist can say, “Don’t bother to see me until you’ve standardized your processes.” Realistically, and ethically, I don’t think that’s the way for us to help. The best option is to help them establish a standard and go from there, like you’ve done.

    One epiphany I had over a year ago was while reading Liker & Rother’s Toyota Culture. Early in the book they showed a study of Hofstede Cultural Scores, which made it clear that American culture is much more independent and short-term thinking than Asian cultures, which makes it harder in the U.S. to establish things like standardized work, in my opinion. In America, we want to do it our own way (“Don’t tell me what to do!”) and we want it now, and if a new way isn’t working right away, we abandon it before we give it a chance to work. It’s a constant uphill battle in the U.S. – in many cultures, really – but it’s never easy.

  2. Oops, I meant to credit Liker & HOSEUS – not Rother. Apologies.

  3. Standardizing is part of stabilization, which Art Smalley says comes first before improvement. Even if it’s not the “best” way, standardizing will remove variation. Then the reasons behind waste or instability for reasons other than variations in the methods used (like problems with machines, materials, etc.) can be tracked down and improved. The concept of stability includes much more than standardization when you start to think about it. To me, that is a great insight.

    • Absolutely, Karen. You nailed it. With variation eliminated/reduced then the waste in the process can start to be seen. Standardizing is much like 5S in that it helps to make the abnormal condition visible quickly. Once it the abnormal condition is seen it can be addressed.

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