man with keysWe all know how easy it is to get bogged down creating detailed guidelines, slavishly following stepped structures and learning new terminology. Over the years I have deployed many lean and Total Productive Maintenance techniques across a wide range of businesses.

Recently it occurred to me that instead of creating ever more complicated explanations it’s sometimes better to get back to basics. Can we describe what we want to do in very simple terms?

Light bulb moment – all of our successful improvement methodologies are based on just 4 key principles! Understanding these allows us to move forward and ensure our lean implementation is successful.

  1. Think of the task you are improving as a process.
  2. Eliminate what does NOT add value.
  3. Pursue your implementation with unrelenting rigour and discipline.
  4. Involve everybody in the implementation programme.

1. Think of the task you are improving as a process

It doesn’t matter if you are machining a piece of metal or writing code for a program. What you are doing is transforming something from one form into another. This could be metal pipe into an exhaust, ideas into a computer programme, or telephone enquiries into quotes.

Once we can identify the inputs to our process then we can observe it, capture it and improve it.

2. Eliminate what does NOT add value

When we observe our process, anything that doesn’t help convert our inputs closer to the required output does not add value to our process.

I started by learning to identify and eliminate the 7 Wastes, then someone added an 8th waste. Later I learned about the 16 Losses in TPM and all the phrases we use to describe waste in transactional processes like disconnects, threats and back flows.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, but it is vital that you eliminate it.

3. Pursue elimination with unrelenting rigour and discipline

Easy to say, much, much harder to do.

I don’t think there is any substitute for leading by example and personally ensuring that everybody is doing their bit.

Always follow up the improvements your team make. Ensure physical changes are completed and behavioural changes become daily habits. This will prevent the hard won improvements fading away.

Once you’ve embedded that improvement you need to do it all again. And again. Improvement is infinite and better is not good enough!

All of the well known improvement programmes, like the Toyota Production System, are an accumulation of small steps in learning built up over time. They started with simple waste elimination tools that gradually became more specialised as the waste became harder to eliminate.

Dogged perseverance is the name of the game.

4. Involve everybody in the improvement programme

Not only do you get more ideas by involving more people but you spread the word more effectively. The benefits of working in teams is a subject in its own right, but this quote sums it up for me

“A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle”.

My recommendation

If the technique you are using has become overcomplicated look back at these four basic principles. At least one of them will explain the aspect you are trying to understand. Start with the simple and then build on it as you learn.

Let me know about your experiences in mastering improvement techniques.

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