Continuous Improvement in Daily Work

Q: How to make Continuous Improvement Activities a part of daily work?

This question regularly is being asked when companies join a Lean- or TPM journey.

Arno Koch •  Continuous Improvement indeed should not be a project, an incidental activity or a staff-member job. So how to engage everybody in the factory to get involved in improvement activities on a daily basis?

The role of management

First of all it is the task -and main purpose of being- of the complete management crew to Govern Change.

Concrete this means the management has to design, create and establish a work-environment where people CAN and shall perform their task in a solid, accurate and smooth way.

Unfortunately, in many companies it is not because, yet nevertheless the working environment, the procedures, the processes, that the job is being done… Otherwise how can it be that the workforce can threaten the company with  “work to the rule”…

In other words: Although it is organised as it is, people manage to perform their tasks, having to ‘be creative’ and even break the rules all the time in order to succeed.

As a manager, question yourselves how deep your basic knowledge about your value-stream really is. Do you have detailed insights what when where happens? Do you really know what is happening at the shopfloor; at the places where the actual value is being created? Would you believe when you where told that probably over 95% of your main resources do NOT lead to value addition?

Having Continuous Improvement Activities become integrated as part of daily work is primarily a task of the management. That’s what governing change is all about. Having ‘to govern the change’ in order to achieve serious improvements, management needs to be seriously concerned about 4 questions:

  1. What are we aiming for, where are we heading?
  2. Where are we now AND what is in between ‘now’ and ‘then’?
  3. How to eliminate that gap?
  4. How do we sustain that improvement?

1. What are we aiming for, where are we heading?

Having a True North

Can you be specific when being asked:

  • Where is your company/department/line in 3, 5 and 10 years?
  • When I come here in 3 years, what is the first thing I will notice? What will it look like, how will I feel here, what will our customers say about us, … etc.
  • How will our people know what to do, whether they are on track?
  • How do we align our peoples needs with our companies needs?

Governing Change begins with having a clear picture about what you are changing into. And being able to clearly communicate this, in a way that those who should actually realize that change can fully identify with this picture.

2. Where are we now AND what is in between ‘now’ and ‘then’?

Visualizing all losses

When it is clear what my machine, my line, department or company should look like, what challenges it should be able to face, the next question is: “Where are we now and what is in between”.

This is a crucial part in managing change: If we forget to analyse- and visualize the gap, it will be very difficult to proactively work through this ‘hidden landscape’.

At a conversion-level here we use OEE; this instrument, when well applied, will inform us about the dynamics of the actual value creation process. It will give us insight what can be done to stabilize and improve it. It will also lead use (via 5 Why’s) to the rest of the process and organisation.

Valuestream maps and especially makigami-process mapping will reveal the losses and hidden potentials within our organisation. These methodologies will first of all work for us as learning tools, where the workforce ánd its management will gain a unified and deep understanding what is actually happening in this (according to the ISO book) so smoothly looking processes that are nevertheless consuming so many resources and causing so many problems. (Check: How is the ratio between direct- and indirect personnel in your company? Why is that?).

As a manager it is your task to ask for such visualizations and to allow the people involved to analyse and report the losses on a regular basis. (Instead of having others -that do not really know the works-, tell them how they performed). Please feel the difference:

  • When YOU can tell your management in detail about your value creation process and what you need to perform better, versus
  • When a staff-member or manager tells you how HE thinks you performed

In the first case you might discuss what- how- and when you need support;
in the second case you will most probably argue the numbers, start defending or explaining and get frustrated in the end, feeling not understood…

3. Continuously Improving

Eliminating Losses

As soon as we can see what is hindering, what is between where we are now and where we are heading for, we can start the improvement. Improvement in that sense, mainly is not a matter of doing new things. It is about eliminating those things that do not really matter, that do not contribute to what we want to achieve at first. A well designed OEE and a well performed Value Stream Analysis (including a deep loss analysis!) tells us quite explicitly WHAT should be eliminated.

This elimination can ONLY be done by the people directly involved, in a multidisciplinary team, having a 360 degree view on the situation. I promise you: There is not ONE person in your organisation that fully understands whatever process you are going to investigate! (Even if you just received whatever ISO/QS certificate…)

This team needs to learn to work in a structured PDCA way and must be capable of doing decent phenomenon descriptions, true root-cause analyses, draw Operating Principles and make process designs. Every member of your company can learn this. Visualizing, analyzing and eliminating losses ought to be an essential part of each employees work description. It is a perfect learning instrument and will result in a continuously improving the organisation.

It is the task of the management to be clear about WHAT should happen (“eliminate losses in order to achieve our goals”). It is that task of the people that execute the process to improve it, while the management will facilitate such activities as an integrated part of their jobs.

So here is one of the difficult cultural changes: Instead of assigning improvement tasks to staff members or even external parties, these resources (mainly FTE time) is given to the actual performers of the task. 

They will now learn how to do this, and by doing it they will gain a deep understanding of the functioning of equipment, processes, and whatever subject is being studied to improve. And by designing the new way of working by the executioners themselves, this will create ownership, leading to a more sustainable improvement. (You now might believe they can to this: Let me tell you I have not yet met a problem those teams could not solve…)

4. Standardizing optimal conditions

Making the best way the easiest way

As you will be aware, the last step of a PDCA team (you may call them Kaizen Groups, Small Activity Groups,  DMAIC cirkels) is always to create sustainability by standardizing the new way.

Far too often this is ‘forgotten’ or skipped because ‘there was no time left’. Yet this step again is a key to continuous improvement being part of the daily job.

First of all there should always be just one best way to achieve the best result given a certain situation. And that best way is designed and determined by the experts in the field: the people who perform that task. Finding the best standard is -again- a learning event. Here a multitude of solutions may be possible, yet just one will pass the critics of the experts. And they will find a way how to sustain it. Although that might look easy, this proves to be a harsh task…

Standardizing is not a matter of writing procedures: in the optimal form there is nothing written at all: it is embedded in the process, usually in a visual way. Compare it to the parking lot. You do not have to read a guideline to know what is the best way to park your car. No driver ever thinks about this, yet imagine how difficult it must have been to design the optimal layout of the parking lot (and feel what an effect is has if this job has not bee done properly)!


Embedding continuous improvement activities in daily work is not a matter of applying a few tricks, learning a few tools or assigning some tasks. It needs a clear vision of what you want to achieve and the designing and establishing of an environment that engages everybody in the company to contribute to this achievements. This is your task: to Govern Change!

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