5 Continuous Improvement Traps

Lean Is All About Learning – But You Still Don’t Need To Make These Mistakes

5 Continuous Improvement TrapsSo you’ve heard about this whole Lean manufacturing thing, you may have even been using it already, maybe even for months or years on end… but what happens if you’re not seeing the results you wanted or expected?  What do you do if, seemingly and despite your best efforts, Lean projects tend to fall short, or collapse altogether before even reaching completion?

Thinking you’re doing everything right while seeing lackluster performance is a discouraging conundrum in any activity, but when the efficiency and profitability of a company are the things taking hits, it passes over into the realm of unacceptable and has very real consequences.

Many of the mistakes that Lean practitioners, both new and experienced, make are actually wrapped up in the planning phases of a project, even more so than the ‘during’ or the follow up. In this article, we’re going to focus on how you can eliminate some of the rookie Lean mistakes from your playbook to enhance the feasibility and effectiveness of your projects and – by extension – the benefits your business reaps from them.

Continuous Improvement Planning

When planning a Lean project, there’s a lot you need to be aware of before you jump into gear; giving each of these factors the attention it deserves can drastically improve your Lean game.

#1 – Know Everything – And Assume Nothing

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Okay, that may sound a bit extreme. You don’t have to actually “know everything,” but you certainly need to have an intimate grasp of the challenges and potential solutions floating around your work floor.

Let’s say you’ve been tasked with improving throughput within a certain product line. Widgets are coming through too slow to keep up with demand, and your boss is certain that your facilities could be producing more of them each day.

In order to improve efficiency, you’ve got a metaphorical ton of Lean tools at your disposal – Gemba, Takt time management, Kanban mapping, 5S, various Kaizen subtools, just to name a few – but jotting down or speaking out any one of these phrases at this point would be putting the horse before the cart.

The problem with starting out with a solution is that it may not, if more information were gathered, turn out to be the best way to address a problem right off the bat. Unfortunately, it might also mean you end up trying to form the problem to your chosen solution in the long run, rather than the other way around (which is much more effective).

This phase is all about information gathering: observe directly, don’t guess, and keep detailed notes to really get an accurate frame of what’s going on.

#2 – Don’t Pack More Than You Need

Continuous Improvement TrapsThere’s nothing worse than dragging an extra 50lb suitcase around on vacation for three weeks and realizing you could have done without the stuff in it anyways – and by the same principle you don’t want to be midway through your Lean project and realize that, due to biting off more than you could chew, your improvement efforts are progressing painfully slowly.

Don’t go crowdsourcing opinions from the office on what needs to change, acquiescing to management directives that aren’t feasible, or just plain trying to do too much at once – look at what your own notes and research have told you and do your best to set a narrow scope of improvement for each project. Not only does this increase your likelihood of success, but it also will make it easier to measure any correlation between changes in efficiency and the actions you took as part of your improvement project.

#3 – Realistic Time Budgeting

Even once you’ve got it narrowed down to just one thing to focus on, setting realistic goals for your project timing is essential. One thing you have to keep in mind here is that your improvement efforts, and by extension the efforts you require from your employees, are going to be extra, and therefore take up time of their own.

You have to understand that budgeting time for improvement projects means that that time either has to be extra (and therefore paid) or has to take away from time for normal work activities, resulting in a possible further dip in output until the project is done. Understanding constraints and conveying them to anyone you’re accountable to or who commissioned the project is essential to do before you start.

#4 – Leave Planning Tools in the Planning Phase

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As important as it is to organize your efforts and adhere to your plans, it’s good to leave the planning phase as, indeed, an isolated phase. What this means is that you’ll reach a point in your project where there aren’t any more benefits to be had by planning and scheming.

Take a lesson from any entrepreneur’s playbook: If you spend all of your time learning and planning, you’ll realize before long that a lack of actually taking action has left you in about the same place you started.

When planning a project, work as hard as you can to effectively map out what you’re going to be doing with things like charts, lists, and action or flow maps. Have these detailed enough that you can follow them during your action phase is essential so that you won’t be editing, re-working, or interpreting them part way through; these are all activities best left in the planning phase in order to avoid wasting time. 

#5 – Instill Culture, Not Results

Continuous ImprovementThe idea of not focusing on results is definitely an apparent contradiction for most beginning Lean practitioners, and it may even be a bit of a misnomer for the point I want to make, but hear me out. Of course you want results, but if shiny before and after charts or pictures are your measure of success, you’re likely going to find yourself slipping backwards on any progress you’ve made before too long.

Let’s say you take the time to “5S” an area in an organizational effort. What you really end up doing is a big organizational project that results in a spotless, perfectly organized room. You can see your progress right away; awesome, right?! 

The problem here is not understanding the deeper objectives of the tools you’re using. With 5S, your end goal isn’t actually cleaning up a space, it’s training a team to work and organize differently; in turn, this results in cleaner, more efficient spaces and systems as a “symptom” or sub-effect of the new mindset.

In any Lean project, you should be focused on the long-term, and any tangible results you see should be rooted in attitude and mindset changes. Having this kind of focus not only gives you the best chance of longevity of results, but is also more “people-focused” and helps to bring employees into the know in ways they might not often experience for normal management-lead projects. 

Final Formula to Continuous Improvement 

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to buck conventional knowledge and many “intro to” type articles when it comes to your Lean projects. That said, it’s entirely possible to become overwhelmed trying to take in expert-level information on even one topic, let alone many.

To combat this, a good formula is to first evaluate your issue or focus without any initial thought as to a specific solution strategy (as mentioned earlier), use gathered intel to determine a path after the fact, and then focus on the people involved in that path in order to achieve your goals.

Theory of Constraints: Part 3

A major focus within the Theory of Constraints is on increasing sales, rather than cutting costs. To keep the focus on sales, implementers of the process use an accounting method known as Throughput Accounting.

Theory of Constraints Accounting MethodThe following is the third entry in a series of posts that explore the Theory of Constraints and it’s methodology.

Part one of the Theory of Constraints series, offered a broad overview of the process, defined constraints, and provided a simple breakdown of the Five Focusing Steps. Part two in the Theory of Constraints series, expanded on the Thinking Process behind the Theory of Constraints. Part three will now look into Throughput Accounting that is associated with the process.

Traditional Accounting

If we think in terms of conventional accounting, then inventory is considered an asset because in theory, it could be sold and converted into cash. This can often be misleading though and cause a false sense of security. A stockpile of inventory which appears to be increasing assets based off inventory that “could” be sold is a scary way to do business in today’s economy. Looking at a piece of paper that shows you have increased your assets based off your inventory is known as a “paper profit.” The longer you sit on your inventory, the more obsolete it becomes. The product’s value begins to decrease and whatever space that inventory is taking up, is costing you money everyday it sits unsold.

The mindset in traditional accounting methods is to keep a strong focus on how to cut expenses with a major focus on the following:

  • Net Profit
  • Return On Investment
  • Cash Flow

Throughput Accounting

Throughput Accounting takes a slightly different approach to accounting. To help alleviate any misinterpretation of numbers that conventional accounting methods produce, Throughput Accounting keeps an emphasis on the following:

Throughput: The rate at which you generate money through sales.

  • Time is taken into consideration when accounting for throughput. Instead of using product profitability comparisons, you can measure the time it takes to produce a specific unit and calculate the Throughput for each unit.
  • The money sent back to the suppliers is deducted from the Throughput figure. For example, a table selling for $20 and made up of $5 worth of plastic and other materials would have a contribution of $15 per unit. If then, 10 tables can be produced for confirmed sale per hour, the throughput for that unit is $150 per hour.
  • Anything that is in storage is not accounted for in Throughput because it is not generating money.
  • Typically, labor costs are not a factor in the Throughput calculation.

Investment: Any money tied up in the system which can be split up into two separate categories.

  • Raw materials, work in progress and finished goods
  • Investments- as in anything owned by the organization to generate Throughput. This could include machinery, fixtures and fittings.

Operating Expense:  All the money used to convert Investment into Throughput.

  • This would include all regular labor expenses, but not variable costs like payroll, utilities, taxes, etc.


Measuring the Constraints

Once you have calculated out your figures for each category; Throughput (T), Investment (I) and Operating Expense (OE), the measurements can be used throughout the organization to predict and help with future decisions.

  • Profit = T – OE
  • Return on Investment = T – (OE/I)
  • Productivity = T/OE
  • Cash Flow = T – I – OE

Using the Throughput Accounting method to measure the dollars and sense of your organization, keeps the focus on what the Theory of Constraints strives for, making money today, tomorrow and the long-term future of the organization.

Sticking with a conventional accounting methods can lead to the overproduction of inventory, which as Throughput Accounting points out, does not make money for the organization. When you tie up valuable cash flow in the costs associated with making and storing the goods, your profit margins decrease significantly.

Stay tuned for another post in this series that will compare and contrast the Theory of Constraints with Lean processes.

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Theory of Constraints: Part 1

The Theory of Constraints is a popular methodology for organizational change and improvement that was first conceptualized by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt and introduced through his bestselling novel, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. The Theory of Constraints popularity grew quickly and is now a very popular methodology among many organizations. It’s growth and popularity has driven many to compare it to another improvement methodology that is also very popular –Lean.

This is the first in a series of posts that will dive into the Theory of Constraints and its concepts, methods, and goals. Later, I will compare and contrast it with the continuous improvement methods and thinking behind Lean.

What is the Theory of Constraints?

Key to success road sign for Theory of ConstraintsYou’re only as strong as your weakest link. The basic concept behind the Theory of Constraints is that every organization has a weak link in the form of a constraint. Constraints can be defined as any limiting factor that inhibits an organization from achieving a desired goal or anything else they might be striving for, which is usually profit. This could also be referred to as a bottleneck.

The Theory of Constraints is a methodology backed by a scientific approach to define and eliminate your weakest link. The hypothesis is that all complex systems consist of multiple linked activities like a chain, including manufacturing processes and in each chain, there is a weak link. This is then the constraint that is to be removed in order to improve your organization.

One of the strengths to the Theory of Constraints is that it emphasizes focus in world of information overload. It prioritizes improvement activities down to the current constraint and the methodology for rapidly improving it.

Constraints 101

To fully understand the Theory of Constraints, you have to understand what a constraint is. As stated earlier, a constraint is anything that prevents an organization from making progress towards a goal. They can take shape in many forms and to help you better understand them, here are some common categories of constraints:

PhysicalUsually equipment, but can also be other items, such as lack of materials, not enough people, or insufficient space.
PolicyHow you are supposed to do the work described. This could include company procedures, union contracts, or government regulations.
ParadigmThe habits and beliefs engrained into the culture that performs the work.
MarketWhen you begin to produce more than you are selling.


The goal of just about any manufacturing company is to make a profit. The Theory of Constraints includes a set of tools to help you do just that, including:

  • The Five Focusing Steps
  • The Thinking Processes
  • Throughput Accounting

The Five Focusing Steps

  1. Identify the current constraint:  The constraint can be identified through various methods. This could be any one of the before mentioned constraints, but is the single part of the process that is currently limiting the rate in which the goal is achieved.
  2. Exploit the constraint: Now that you have identified the constraint, you need to decide how to exploit it. Goldratt says the change agent needs to obtain as much capability as possible from a constraint, without undergoing expensive changes or upgrades –make the most of what you currently have.
  3. Subordinate: You can now make and implement decisions to ensure rules, behaviors and measures enable, rather than impede its ability to exploit the identified constraint.
  4. Elevate the system’s constraint: If the first three steps are successful, you can now take whatever action necessary to eliminate the constraint. All major changes to the existing system are considered in step four.
  5. Don’t allow inertia to set in: Remember this is a continuous improvement process. Once you have eliminated the constraint, return to step one and repeat. There will always be another constraint.

The five focusing steps are the keys to keeping focused and on task with the big picture. They allow you to keep track of where you are in the process and understand what still needs to be done to eliminate the constraint.

Stay tuned for future posts in this series that will expand on the thinking process, throughput accounting, as well as a breakdown the Lean and Theory of Constraints similarities and differences.

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Failure is a Matter of Perspective

It’s nearly impossible to live your life without experiencing some form of failure. At some point if your life, you have more than likely failed at something. You can try to live cautiously and do only what’s necessary to avoid the risk of failure, but in the world of Lean, that is failure.

success-failure To be great you have to take chances, you have to think outside of the box and be willing to accept the fate that comes with it. The path to continuous improvement does not come with Google Maps for you to set your cruise control and relax. It takes a progressive mind that does not fear failure, but instead, sees it it as an opportunity to improve.

Fearing failure can put up serious roadblocks in your progression that are often hard to overcome and cause you to miss great opportunities along the way.

Signs of Fear of Failure

These are some common symptoms of having a fear of failure:

  • Hesitant to try new things or get involved in challenging projects at work.
  • Procrastinate unfamiliar task and get severe anxiety when given such tasks.
  • Having a low self-esteem and always believing you’re not good enough.
  • Only willing to try things you have perfected and can finish successfully with little effort.

Harvard University rejected Warren Buffet; Apple fired Steve Jobs at one point; Michael Jordan’s high school basketball team cut him due to lack of skills; Richard Branson dropped out of high school; Thomas Edison, failed more than 1000 times before figuring out the light bulb and Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections before finally winning.

Granted these are all cases that could be considered rare and extraordinary examples, but the point is they all fought through failure to achieve greatness. They didn’t accept failure as the end all, instead used it to motivate and educate themselves to achieve what they really wanted.

One of the biggest life changes you can make in your work or home life is to start accepting failure as a great learning experience, rather than the end all. Everyday you fail at something. Maybe you were a couple minutes late to work, or you forgot to substitute something in your lunch order, heck you may have even forgot to pick up the kids from soccer practice. The point is, these things happen and rather than see them as failures in your day, use them as learning experiences for tomorrow.

These may seem like small insignificant things to learn from, but for those that fear failure in the workplace, recognizing and learning from small failures like these can help you start to overcome your fears.

Tips to Overcome a Fear of Failure

  • Keep a positive attitude: A positive attitude is an incredibly powerful tool against negativity and is an excellent way to improve self-confidence.
  • Evaluate all potential outcomes: The fear of the unknown is often due to the fear of failure. You can help remove these fears by considering all potential outcomes to your decision and the learning experiences offered by each decision.
  • Always find the worst-case scenario: The worst case scenario may be a disaster in the waiting, but it could also be a great opportunity to teach and learn from.
  • Have a backup plan: Whether you fear failure or not, you should always have a backup plan to help you through your process. A backup plan builds confidence and shows others you are prepared for any outcome moving forward.

Buckminster Fuller is a renowned American philosopher, architect, and inventor. He owns 28 patents, authored over 30 books and has received more than 60 honorary degrees. He has been considered the father of American landscape architecture and once said this regarding failure:

Whatever humans have learned had to be learned as a consequence only of trial and error experience. Humans have learned only through mistakes.

Buckminster Fuller

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A Creative Mind is A Productive Mind

As each day comes and goes we often find ourselves just going through the motions as a means to get through them. We wake up, go to work, come home, and repeat. It’s a cycle that’s tough to break and while it may seem robotic from the outside, to you it’s just another day. Unfortunately, these types of mental slumps all but shut down our ability to spark creativity.

One of the biggest factors in our continuous improvement journey is our ability to think outside the box and be creative with our decision making. We get so caught up in our daily practices that we often forget how important it is to keep an open mind and free ourselves from the walls that hinder our creative thought.

“Be Creative”

Be Creative on your Path to Continuous ImprovementBreaking down these walls however, doesn’t come easy. You need the tools to in place and the willingness to let yourself go at times. I find it odd that we often are told to “be creative.” If it was only that easy! It’s not a switch that we can just turn on when we clock in. There is no magic button we can press to instantly become creative, but we can arm ourselves with the tools necessary to help inspire creativity.


Everybody has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential you can start to change the world.

Paulo Coelho, lyricist and novelist

Ideas To Help Bring Out Your Creative Spirit

  • Get outside: Sometimes you just need to get out. Instead of eating lunch everyday in the break room or even worse, your office, take a walk outside. Nature as a way of inspiring us and opening up our minds to new ideas. Next time you’re working through a problem and feel like you’re in a mental rut, take a walk and clear your mind of any obstacles that lay in your way. 
  • Capture your ideas: Ideas come at all times of the day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and thought of a way to solve a current issue, only to fall back asleep and forget it by morning. Keep a notebook by your side at all times or for those with smartphones, download one of the many free note taking apps out there. I am currently using Evernote and have found it to be an amazing tool to capture my thoughts and creativity.
  • Collaborate instead of isolate: Don’t ever be afraid to bounce ideas off your co-workers. Not only will this expand your creative thought process, but it will also inspire others to do the same. Harvesting a culture that feels comfortable collaborating with one another is essential to continuous improvement and the creative spirit of the team.

Be You

In order to put yourself in a position to be creative, you have to ultimately just be you. Everyone is different when it comes to what makes us tick, but we all have the potential to be as creative as we allow ourselves to be. You should never be afraid of an idea or solution to a problem that may seem out of the ordinary. Thinking out side the box and thinking through those out of the ordinary solutions is what sets a apart those who continuously improve every day and those who struggle to get over the hump.

Telling people how to be creative is easy, its only being it that’s difficult.

John Cleese

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10 Commandments To Continuous Improvement

The challenge to keep a path of continuous improvement on track is full of obstacles and interference. In the back of our mind we know what we should be doing, but there are often times when we just can’t seem to stay on track. I recently watched an online video (shown below) from the Gemba Academy titled “Ten Commandments of Continuous Improvement” and it reminded me of the great mental tools a Lean mind is full of.

The Ten Commandments not only reminded me of how important it was to stay on path, but also how continuous improvement is about human behavior, not numbers or technical skills and knowledge.

The 10 Commandments To Continuous Improvement

  1. Open your mind to change
  2. Think “Yes we can, if…”
  3. Always attack the processes, not people
  4. Seek simple solutions
  5. If it’s broken stop and fix it
  6. Use creativity, not capital
  7. Problems are opportunities in disguise
  8. Fix the root cause: ask “why” five times (instead of who)
  9. The wisdom of many is better than the knowledge of one
  10. There is no final destination on the improvement journey

Path to Continuous ImprovementEach one of these commandments offers a unique, yet simple perspective to continuous improvement. There are many approaches to Lean that range from complex principles and tools, all the way down to simple, even common sense approaches. However, at the core of all of them, is the people and the culture that help organizations in their continuous improvement journey.

Here’s a look at each commandment and it’s value to our thought process and culture we align ourselves with.

1. Open Your Mind To Change


No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered.

Winston Churchill

We are a constantly evolving society and to accept the change or adjustments needed for continuous improvement, you have to have an open mind to new ideas. If someone takes the time to formulate an idea for improvement, then someone should take the time to consider it. The culture that is confident in each other will be more open to all ideas of improvement. Not all ideas are worth implementing, but if you keep an open mind to them, they might just springboard other ideas that do work.

2. Think “Yes we can, if…”

As we grow older and “wiser” we tend to loose this mindset. If you ever need a refresher course on overcoming objections, go tell a child they “can’t” do something. I guarantee they will come up with a ton of reasons why they can. For some reason, as we age we instead find reasons why we can’t do something. This is a big obstacle on your path to continuous improvement. If you believe anything is possible, then your path will stay clear of debris.

3. Always Attack The Process, Not People

Attacking an individual for a flaw or mistake is extremely damaging to your Lean culture. No matter the human error made, the process should always be looked at and evaluated. If you attack the individual then you take away their confidence to do their job. This often leads to them disengaging from the culture and unwilling to make contributions to ideas, or be creative.

4. Seek Simple Solutions

It’s amazing how powerful and efficient a simple solution can be. Trying to solve complex issues with complex solutions, often leads to nowhere, or bigger issues. There’s a simple solution for everything, if you allow yourself to believe in this mindset.

5. If It’s Broken, Stop and Fix It

Putting off problems or broken items is not only unsafe, but creates a culture that doesn’t take improvement to heart. You can’t move forward in your continuous improvement path by putting problems aside. They need to be immediately addressed. This is done by immediately fixing any small problems that don’t require a lot of time, or for larger issues, begin to develop a plan of action to fix the problem.

6. Use Creativity, Not Capital

If you’re a sports fan then the sixth commandment should make a lot of sense. Any sports fan knows that money doesn’t buy championships. Instead, the team that often wins is the one that believes in each other and as the best chemistry. The same goes for a Lean team. You can’t buy your way towards continuous improvement, but you can use the creativity and minds that your team has to build a solid foundation under your path to improvement.

7. Problems Are Opportunities In Disguise

A problem should always be received as an opportunity to add value to your organization. Instead of being discouraged that a problem as come about, be thankful that you have an opportunity to make improvements to your organization.

8. Fix The Root Cause: Ask “Why” Five Times (instead of who)

You can’t move forward from a problem without fixing the root cause first. Neglecting the root cause is a dangerous method to problem solving. They way you address the root cause is just as important though. There is no blame game in the continuous improvement path. Asking “why” instead of “who” not only helps you get the the root faster, but also allows others the opportunity to engage in the process without fear of reprimand.

9. The Wisdom OF Many Is Better Than The Knowledge Of One

Your ability to continuously improve is extremely dependent on your culture and the feedback they provide. You can’t be a dictator and expect to have others believe in a process that they take no part of. If you have an open door to ideas and collaborative efforts, you allow the culture to strengthen from within and build a wealth of information to help you on your journey.

10. There Is No Final Destination On The Improvement Journey

If you feel you’ve reached an endpoint in your journey, then it’s time to re-think your path. The word continuous means there’s no interruption or break in the path. For our purposes it means you can never stop improving. If you truly believe that you and your organization will continuously improve, then there are no limits to your success.

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25 Key Leader Behaviors That Encourage Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement Webinar

I had a chance to listen in on Dr. Greg Jacobson and Mark Graban of KaiNexus as they gave a very informative webinar last week for Gemba Academy about “Leadership Behaviors that Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement.” They laid out 25 leadership behaviors that are essential for all leaders to abide by as they work towards encouraging continuous improvement in their organization.

You can listen and view the original webinar here for approximately 30 days from the original broadcast on August 14, 2013.

It’s Not the Boxes Fault

Before getting into and breaking down the 25 key behaviors, Graban and Jacobson have a very strong introduction that really gets us back to the basics of Kaizen. They discuss there frustration with certain flaws that while on the outside may seem like they are meant to promote continuous improvement, but in reality, are counter intuitive. Take the suggestion box approach for example, Graban uses a masterful quote from Bruce Hamilton (President of GBMP) to make his point.

Many companies assume that the failure of the suggestion box approach is with employees that don’t care, but if we dig a little deeper we find it is the system itself that squashed enthusiasm

Bruce Hamilton, GBMP

The problem is the system itself, as they both point out. An “opaque” box with a “lock and key” are not very inviting to an employee who hopes to voice his or her idea for improvement. Especially, if it takes a year for it to even be acknowledged. The scapegoat here is not necessarily the ugly suggestion box collecting dust in the corner of the break room. It’s the barriers that Graban points out that promote a ‘check your brain at the door’ culture within an organization.

In the culture of continuous improvement there’s a huge disconnect from what people say they are doing and what they are actually doing, it needs to be about taking something that is written on the wall to something the front lines believe in.

Dr. Greg Jacobson

A big theme leading up to the 25 keys and throughout was that “leaders need to lead and lead differently” and “create and environment where people can speak up and take action.” This doesn’t come easy and overcoming the common barriers to continuous improvement holds a lot of people up. Their 25 keys to leadership behaviors are not in any specific order of importance, in fact they should all be considered equally, as one evaluates their own leadership qualities.

The Toyota Way

Leaders develop people by:

  1. Surfacing problems
  2. Solving problems
  • Create environment where this happens

Okay, okay the moment you’ve been skimming for.

Drum roll please…

Continuous improvementThe 25 Key Leader Behaviors:

  1. State your belief in Kaizen– Believe that everyone can participate in continuous improvement.
  2. Explain why Kaizen is important– Everyone should have an idea of the organization’s direction.
  3. Empower, but be a servant leader– Have a balance between your willingness to step-in and delegating or simply letting staff come up with and test their ideas.
  4. Participate in Kaizen yourself– Don’t just lecture, demonstrate.
  5. Ask for Kaizen ideas(and opportunities)– Don’t allow a “check your brain at the door” mentality
  6. Don’t require everything to be an event or a project– This can be counterproductive.
  7. Emphasize small ideas– Little wins gain confidence, focus on things you know can be accomplished from time to time.
  8. Ask for more than just cost savings– Avoid the “crash diet,” quarterly goals sometimes overlook long-term sustainability goals.
  9. Look at the process instead of blaming people– People will be more willing to point out near misses if they don’t feel threatened.
  10. Keep asking for Kaizen– “Developing a culture of continuous improvement is not a project it’s a way of being.”Keep asking!
  11. Don’t hide ideas (be transparent)– Improvement is infectious.
  12. Quickly respond to every idea– Acknowledgement is key.
  13. Work to find something to implement– Find away to address every concern an employee has.
  14. Turn “bad ideas” into better ideas– Find core of why idea was brought up.
  15. Coach, but don’t nitpick– Let ideas develop and get redesigned throughout the process.
  16. Help people see the bigger picture (don’t suboptimize)
  17. Turn complaints into ideas– What can you do to turn complaint into action?
  18. Help create time for people to take action– There’s always time!
  19. Help share and spread ideas– Look for opportunities share with other departments.
  20. Don’t forget the “SA” in PDSA- Study and Adjust!
  21. Don’t overdue the “P” in PDSA– Less planning more doing.
  22. Be prepared to fail (and learn from failure)– Failures are learning opportunities.
  23. Be careful with rewards and quotas– Extrinsic motivation can kill intrinsic motivation.
  24. Give people recognition for ideas (effort, not just results)– Less monetary rewards and more recognition can go a long way.
  25. Compile the results and celebrate them– People can connect what they are doing to long-term goals.


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Continuous Improvement and Behavior-Based Safety

Continuous Improvement and Behavior-Based Safety

Continuous improvement methods have revolutionized the manufacturing industry for years now thanks to the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the many innovators that have come along the way. While these methods are sometimes interlinked with each other they often leave out a way to integrate other methods of improving performance that aren’t in line with the traditional TPS ideology. However, a manufacturing plant in Iowa decided to go against the grain by merging behavior-based safety (BBS) and kaizen into their manufacturing plants. This continuous improvement and behavior-based safety combination has proven to be successful for the company in more ways than one.

continuous improvement and behavior-based safety Case Study

A standard principle in most improvement processes is the strive for perfection, hence the term continuous. An issue that arises time and time again that halts the process, is one’s ability to sustain their program. This particular plant in Iowa is a fairly large plant that has several manufacturing facilities on the grounds and were actually enjoying the benefits of Kaizen for years, but felt something was missing.

The company’s unusual layout of having several similar manufacturing facilities located on the same property actually proved to be a perfect arena to monitor the molding of continuous improvement and behavior-based safety into one another. They were able to have a side-by-side comparison of the effects a behavior-based management system had on Kaizen sustainment by selectively implementing it into specific sites.

Nearly four years into their Kaizen the plant implemented a behavior-based safety approach into one of their facilities. They designated specific safe behaviors, observing people on the job, providing feedback, while rewarding and recognizing improvement. Right from the start management and supervisors began to notice the potential BBS could have on the current continuous improvement system they had in place.

Throughout the Kaizen implementation the company understood that combining strategies of existing management styles that addressed quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale-related issues was going to be important, but the answer was more complicated than they thought. Also, they were well aware that implementation was only part of the process, in fact the most difficult challenge was going to be sustaining the Kaizen methods to insure long lasting improvement and cost containment.

The company had regular Kaizen events conducted surveys to gauge employee involvement into the process. They found a direct correlation between the amount of participation in Kaizen events to how positive an employee felt about their jobs and about the company. However, the company still struggled with keeping up on the daily sustainment of continuous improvement activities after the events.

Instead of throwing blame, the company looked at the actual implementation process and looked at the lack of reinforcement and appropriate consequence management system. These missing elements were key they felt to gaining the daily improvement they were striving for.

Behavior-based strategies build-in a consequence-driven support structure to accommodate a new process until it becomes integrated into the organization’s culture

Dr. Leo Carlin, behavior-based specialist

continuous improvement and behavior-based safety Enter Behavior-Based Safety

Their are stark differences between Kaizen and BBS. For instance in BBS the people from the work area own the process. They decide the actual behaviors they want to improve. Whereas in Kaizen, management determines the behaviors they want to change. Even after the initial training of BBS the employees still run the process.

Kaizen: Management Driven

BBS: Employee Owned and Driven

The key here is the BBS process is easy to manage, results are generally positive and sustainment is rarely an issue.

The BBS process begins with the basics, like bringing the use of safety glasses or ear plugs to an habitual form. Although it might seem simple, a very important thing is happening during this initial implementation. The staff is learning how to communicate, how to reinforce others and how to acclimated to talking to others about a personal topic, like safety.

Often times in Kaizen we see communication breakdowns. Things get implemented quickly and employees don’t have the time to communicate, only do. By breaking through the communication barriers employees are more apt to achieve a desired goal whether it’s a Kaizen or BBS goal.

The breakdown in sustainment following a Kaizen event was often attributed to the lack of reinforcement following the event. This required a change in behavior that was not possible without the appropriate reinforcement at the appropriate frequency. However, the skills and techniques that the BBS process offered proved to keep high levels of sustainment in continuous improvement in areas where it was being utilized. Managers found Kaizen changes to go faster and sustain better.

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Overall, the areas with the highest levels of sustainment across the company where those that managers and workers where able to utilize the skills and techniques they had learned from the BBS process and incorporate them into their Kaizen methods.

This proved itself over and over again as they began to implement BBS into their other facilities, similar success followed. Whereas facilities that were left alone, actually saw a decline int their improvement process.

Portions of this post where gathered from a case study done by Terry Butler and Gail Snyder from The Performance Management Magazine.