Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No Time for Improvement Means No Improvement

Whether a company has just switched to Lean production or is still using a traditional manufacturing approach, if it does not establish an official improvement time policy, very little improvement will ever happen there.

We have seen this everywhere, even in companies which loudly proclaim their commitment to continuous improvement. Little or no actual time is set aside to do the very improvement the company says it wants.

It is an age-old battle — production time versus improvement time. Two worthy rivals attempting to occupy the same narrow 24-hour space. The issue is not which is more important. Production is! This is as it should be: a company is in business to sell its products and services. It must first make them. And that takes time. Production time always comes first.

Without an improvement time policy, however, the danger is that needed improvements will never happen.

Too often improvement is left to chance and the ingenuity of the willing to eke out small pockets of time — and make magic happen. We all know these people. They see the vision burning brightly before them and are determined to make it happen. Time and again, these people prove — with their own mental, emotional, and physical health — the familiar adage: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

In a sad and important way, these quiet heroes do their companies and the rest of us some bit of harm. When they make magic happen, in the absence of a clearly defined, improvement time policy, they unintentionally send the message that separate time is not needed. Wise, indeed, is the company that sees through this double-think and takes steps to establish the policy nevertheless.

Improvement doesn’t just happen.  It takes time, and in the pressure pot of our day to day activities, there is never enough time to improve our situation. The structure of Lean permits and requires time be set aside for improvement. If managers do not definitively provide time for the task of improvement, then people will know that they are not serious about making improvement a formal part of the work.

Most of us don't set aside time in the day, much less the week, just to improve. It doesn't take much time or skill, mainly just will. We need to be encouraged and reminded that it only takes a few minutes to do kaizen. Without assistance from management, people have no good way to make time for improvement within the workday.

There can be no improvement without the time and resource commitment from management to solve problems.

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  1. SO true. I struggle with this at my current company. I would love to hear suggestions about how others have implemented a time policy that worked.

    1. We allocated 1hr per week per person.

      It has created significant results...

    2. A convenient way to get some time is at shift changes and/or end of day or week where there some unplanned downtime. Also, have a list of activities for when the demand changes in the business. Sometimes the beginning of a month is slower than the end especially for no lean businesses. Plan activities then. Remember that for every second you spend on improvement it will pay dividends in the future saving equal or more time. You have to be a little creative.