Many manufacturing companies implemented a variety of Continuous Improvement Program or CIP to be competitive and elevate their factories to world class standards and be the best in their industries. Typically, these companies tried to adopt one or more programs such as Six Sigma, TQM, TPM, JIT, DFM, SCM, TPS, BPR or some other 3 letter acronym. While these programs are open to all industries, some companies have been successful but still majority have failed. This conflicting result caused confusion, frustration or even having second thoughts on the effectiveness of these programs. Even in some factory visits I had with "successful" CIP, I couldn't help notice that CIP activities were superficial.
I have worked for a manufacturing company belonging to an industry with very fierce competition. This was once an industry a couple of decades ago originally had an estimated of 200 players globally. Now most of that have vanished either through Bankruptcy or Mergers and Acquisition. To date there are only 3 remaining key players in the global market. The success of 3 remaining key players can be be attributed to volume production of high quality innovative products, acquiring high technology equipment and facilities, first to market delivery, cost and “highly capable and skilled workforce”.
Developing capable and skilled workforce in a factory is an investment but unlike any other investment, it is developed continuously and progressively and should be linked to the strategic needs of the business. Companies fail to implement a CIP simply because most still view these programs as a solutions to a specific problem rather than as an action toward an intended direction of becoming better than your competitor. It’s therefore the degree of drive the whole organization for excellence can make or break an improvement program.
In the company I had previously worked for, we have successfully implemented 2 major improvement programs: Six Sigma and TPM. These improvement initiatives were adopted to harness each of the unique characteristic of Six Sigma and TPM with the former focused on Critical-to-Quality or CTQ’s involving Managers, Engineers and Associates and the latter focused on the workplace improvements or kaizens involving Operators and Technicians. The 2 programs were adopted mainly to develop knowledge and skills of the whole organization to solving simple to complex problems. Having each single employee participating and engaging in 1 or more improvement initiative made this company survive through the turbulent time and is still continuously growing.
Factors that make a successful CIP implementation are as follows:
1. Top Management commitment - Executives must be directly participating in key activities such as leading a committee, formulation of policies, providing resources and overseeing the implementation. Simply, it should be a persistent leadership that walks the talk.
2. Training and Education Program– Training and Education plays a key factor and should be done continuously and progressively. Building skills and capabilities that provide sources of competitive advantage are usually built over time through a series of investment.
3. A clear long-term road-map or strategy – Understanding the long term strategy allows to prioritize improvement activities that will have high impact.
4. Rewards and recognition system is in place – Having a rewards and recognition not only provides motivation but also serves a platform to share best practices within the organization.
5. Develop an ownership mindset – Last to develop but certainly the most important and challenging of all. Having everyone participate improvement program, engaging and empowering them increases your chances of success.
Sustaining improvement initiatives is the most difficult part of these programs. For continuous improvement to be effective it has to both become an integrated part of company’s strategy and become a culture of the organization. This will take a while to happen but with persistent leadership over several years can help organizations weave continuous improvement programs into their DNA.