Today’s managers are under tremendous pressure to meet delivery targets with less and less resource, let alone meet the changing demands of the customer. Shorter deadlines, smaller delivery quantities, tighter quality standards and all of that cheaper please!

Who needs the added pressure of lean improvement programmes or a Kaizen event? Releasing people from their day job and equipment from production is a tough ask when the customer is breathing down your neck. Unfortunately continuous improvement activities, just like training activities, are usually the first casualties in a pressured environment.

However, while your brilliant trouble shooting may have saved the next delivery, has it really helped you longer term? Ask yourself “Did we really solve the problem or will it come back to hit us again?”

To break out of fire-fighting mode you have to bite the bullet and start to solve the recurring issues. Don’t think of continuous improvement as a cosy training session, used cleverly it will make it easier for you to hit your daily targets and make all those improvements required to boost your competitiveness.

I’m not pretending it’s easy to make a start. As a shift manager I was very proud of my trouble shooting ability, but in hindsight I realise how limiting that was. However, with some basic preparation and a plan ready to go you can break the fire-fighting cycle.

  1. Collect some figures on what is stopping you achieving your daily targets.
  2. Analyse them to find out what the biggest problem is. This analysis may be by cash, downtime or quality.
  3. Break the biggest problem down into smaller categories.
  4. Find out what the most appropriate improvement tools or techniques are to resolve your problem. You may have an internal improvement team to help you or you can find an external specialist who can work with you to deploy the techniques you need.

Now you are ready for when you get a slight lull in the fire-fighting, or if worst comes to worst it’s a few extra hours!

  1. Display the figures and analysis on a board in the workplace area with the biggest problem. Handwritten is fine.
  2. Brief the whole area team round the board.
  3. Select a small team and deploy the tool or technique. At the start of your improvement journey the tools and techniques are easy to pick up and deploy. Have a go, learn by doing and next time you use the tool you will be more experienced.
  4. Show your results on the board and keep briefing the wider team. You can show results not only in the original analysis format but with before and after pictures, graphs and monetary savings. Different people will be looking at your results; you need to show them in different ways. The finance department love money – they want to see savings on the bottom line! Your team are probably more interested in how much easier the job has become without all the problems and hassle.
  5. When you have reduced the first problem pick the next biggest and keep going!

It takes time and perseverance but if you keep plugging away you will break out of the fire-fighting mode and release time for more improvement. Achieving daily targets becomes possible as you tackle each of the problems that exist now. Once stable you can concentrate on making those improvements you need to be competitive.

This is how I did it, but let me know how you have broken out of the fire-fighting cycle