Why even bother with Continuous Improvement?

In the spring of 2021, on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, Kaas Tailored is hosting a series on Problem Solving & Continuous Improvement. To register to join in on the fun, please go here.

What is a system?

Before talking about Improvement Systems, let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing. What is a system? Russell Ackoff, a contemporary of W. Edwards Demming, describes a system as “more than the sum of its parts; it is an indivisible whole. It loses its essential properties when it is taken apart. The elements of a system may themselves be systems, and every system may be part of a larger system.” An example of a system that you may have seen at Kaas Tailored is our Visual Management System. This includes our beer cups, ring toss, work station door signs, Today Boards, Year Boards, manifesto, and Destination Guide. It is not one single part, but the whole, that is an effective communication tool.

If you take away the following, you will see these consequences:

  • Beer Cups // We will no longer know how that individual or line is performing
  • Ring Toss // We will not know how much buffer we need or have at any given time
  • Work Station Doors // We will not be able to set clear boundaries, resulting in frustration and work not getting completed
  • Today Board // We will lose the daily picture of how each team is dealing with the work
  • Year Board // We will lose sight of the big picture performance of our teams
  • Manifesto // We will lose our sense of purpose and culture
  • Destination Guide // We will lose sight of the interconnectedness of our organization and our desire to grow people through creating custom growth pathways

Not one of these parts can be removed from the system without causing a system breakdown.

Why does Continuous Improvement fail?

Many organizations have made this a part of their vernacular; it has become the flavor of the month. We don’t often take a step back and ask the question, why does it feel like Continuous Improvement (CI) is an uphill battle? We have found that organizations have gone about CI the wrong way. They opt for pocket improvements rather than system changes. They have a CI department that is responsible for pushing the CI jargon. The purpose of CI is not clear. A very common fail-mode occurs when the corner office hasn’t bought in. An improvement culture requires those with authority to give up control. They can no longer make all of the decisions, they have to engrain their mindset into those who they are serving. This is a tall task to ask people who have gotten to where they are by having the answers and making the decisions.

Why does Kaas Improve?

Take a minute to reflect – why is Continuous Improvement a good idea? There are countless motivators behind instituting an Improvement System. Here are some of the potential motivators for having a CI system:

  • increased throughput
  • more profit
  • shorter lead time
  • more joy
  • less physical burden
  • a safer work environment
  • it is better for the environment

This is not an exhaustive list, of course. What else would you add?

For us, our core motivator is that we truly believe that working without waste present feels like a hobby. Pure joy – like skiing mountain from top to bottom on a beautiful spring day. It just clicks.

Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, put it this way in his book Joy Inc., “Joy is designing and building something that actually sees the light of day and is enjoyably used and widely adopted by the people for whom it was intended.” Work can be an incredible source of great joy or great sorrow.

Are you willing to learn more about Continuous Improvement Systems? Are you willing to risk it all for the potential of reforming your organization?