• Bill Greider

5 Sure-fire Ways for Managers to Help Make Continuous Improvement Continuous!!

By now, I'm sure you know my favorite definition of "respect for people". Simply, it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR job. It doesn't matter if I'm the CEO or your supervisor, the plant engineer or the lean manager. It doesn't matter if I've been working at the company for 40 years or just started a month ago. If I don't do your job, I won't try to fix it for you, it's just plain disrespectful.

The truth is, if someone does a job for 40 hours per week, they do the job for 2000+ hours per year. If they've done the job for 10 years, they've logged 20000+ hours. They forgot more than we may ever know.

I've had the honor of helping THOUSANDS of A3 leaders. A3 leaders are volunteers who lead a temporary, self directed work team to implement process improvements and to solve problems. The team is 3-5 people, and the A3 leader uses the A3 form, which is a series of 5 boxes that correspond to the "DMAIC" (define, measure, analyze, improve, control, the scientific method of problem solving). Once the current condition, root cause, the target condition and an implementation plan is hammered out, the A3 leader and his team present their learning to their peers at a "closing".

When I say I have helped thousands A3 leaders, I need to mention that I have never once fixed their job for them. The leader and his team do that part. Here is what I do:

1. Help them refine the scope of the improvement-A3 is about doing hundreds of small improvements, not 3 day kaizen events. If the scope is too big, can we break it up into a series of smaller ones?

2. Help them with team selection-the A3 leader is ultimately responsible for picking the people they will need, but it helps to think out loud. Whom might this improvement impact (they need to be part of the team because we can't change their job if they're not part of it). Will you need someone from maintenance? Quality? IT? Someone who has shown they are really good at 5 why?

3. Help them get their team together-A3 is about shooting for 2 or 3 twenty minute huddles per week, standing up, where the problem exists (at Gemba). This can be a challenge for someone who works in the warehouse or on 2nd shift. People need help here. Often the A3 leader doesn't have access to a computer, never mind Outlook calendar. I often need to go see the chosen team members to help arrange the time and place for the first meeting.

4. Help them not rush to solutions and to work to root cause. Eventually, people will get better and better at this, but in the beginning,,BANG! Right to the fix. I help them slow down, so they don't fix symptoms.

5. I help them get ready for "closing"-many people get very anxious when asked to speak in front of a group. Often their boss, the President, or even the CEO come to the closings. Sometimes 50 people show up. Death, clowns, snakes, public speaking....what people fear most. I help them rehearse, I might even stand next to them at the closing to help them get started. As a rule of thumb, once a person has closed four A3s in front of their peers, watch out. They are no longer anxious and can probably talk in front of a stadium full of people.

Toyota says they "build leaders, then cars." Helping people through this A3 process is really gradually building leaders! My role as lean consultant is really also the role managers and supervisors need to play to turn your lean strategy from a spark to an inferno. Too many times, I see managers manage their office and their computer, and let the consultant do the helping. What if every leader went to help 1 A3 leader every single day for 15 minutes?

You would become a very difficult team to compete against, that's for sure.

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