6 Continuous Improvement Tools & Techniques

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Continuous improvement tools to help lean manufacturing and continuous improvement

Continuous improvement tools are a powerful resource in the lean manufacturing journey. Leveraging the right one can lead to improved productivity, reduced errors, and greater profitability overall. There are many different continuous improvement models that can help a business reach their lean ideals. But how do you know which one is most suited to your organization or specific challenges? In this article, we look at a range of options that can aid process management, streamline quality control, and improve efficiency.

Continuous Improvement Tools and Methodologies

Here’s an overview of the seven most popular and effective continuous improvement tools available.

1. PDCA

The PDCA cycle (short for plan, do, check, act) provides you with a systematic approach to testing different ideas and hypotheses. It can help you to implement continuous improvement throughout your organization using a structured framework. If you want to improve business processes, efficiency, or productivity, then the PDCA cycle can help.

The framework gives front line teams a four-step guide for executing incremental improvement practices. It enables them to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly and is commonly used in lean manufacturing. PDCA stands for:

  • Plan – define your strategic goals and how you’ll achieve them.
  • Do – implement the plan and make any changes required to ensure it works.
  • Check – evaluate the results and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Act – make adjustments based on what’s found in the previous step.

Some companies follow a slightly modified PDSA cycle, where the S stands for ‘study’ instead of check. It’s very similar to PDCA but involves passively observing instead of proactively checking. The simple format means that PDCA is one of the most easily adopted continuous improvement tools. Everyone in a company can understand and follow the four steps as they’re relatable in a wide variety of job roles, from human resources to R&D. It facilitates continuous process improvement and empowers employees to test ideas on a small scale. Over time, this creates a culture of creativity and innovation which is difficult for your competitors to replicate.

2. Gemba Walks

When it comes to continuous improvement tools, Gemba walks can be particularly powerful. They enable you to tap into the most valuable resource a company has: its people. The most innovative improvement ideas often come from the employees who are working on the front line and problem-solving on a daily basis. They have an in-depth understanding of their particular area of the manufacturing process and are able to provide potential solutions.

Smart managers understand that the best way to capture these valuable insights is to get out of their offices and into the ‘Gemba’. This is the place where things actually happen, such as manufacturing or product development. Gemba walks involve interacting with staff on an informal basis at the location where they do their work (as opposed to a meeting room). It enables observation of real-life situations or the actual production process so that leaders have a better idea of things that are happening. This casual yet accurate form of data collection can be a powerful tool for companies that like simple improvement tools and techniques.

Regular Gemba walks also develop better employee relationships and a greater focus on continuous improvement. However, it’s important not to use them as an opportunity to reprimand staff as this will make them less likely to open up and share their thoughts. This approach is best used to observe and collect data which can be used to inform future decision making.

3. 5 Why’s

The 5 why’s is one of the best continuous improvement tools for root cause analysis. It can help you to identify the source of a problem and see beyond the superficial issue. By asking ‘why’ several times in a row, you can dive deeper into the heart of a problem. This enables you to them come up with potential solutions that accurately address it instead of just treating the symptoms. It also helps teams to move past apportioning blame or finger pointing to find the real issue.

Using the 5 why’s technique can also help you to determine the relationships between cause and effect (ideal for creating a fishbone diagram). It’s a simple tool that anyone can utilize without the need for statistical analysis like data regression or hypothesis testing. Businesses may find that they need to ask ‘why’ a few more times or a few less to get to the root of an issue. But this approach is a full proof way of getting to the heart of anything that isn’t working.

4. Toyota Kata Coaching from Managers

The Toyota Kata concept was observed by Mike Rother as part of his research into the car company. Renowned for its Kaizen culture of continuous improvement, he noticed behavior patterns or ‘katas’ that were contributing to it. One of these katas related to the coaching of employees so that they learn, improve and focus their efforts in the right direction.

If you feel that your team is unmotivated or no longer developing, then Toyota Kata coaching can help them to improve effort. It sets regular challenges for them to achieve so that they’re always striving for continuous improvement. They are encouraged to develop daily improvement routines or habits that eventually become second nature. This approach provides a structure for continuous learning and development. This helps to reengage employees who feel stuck or those that have hit a plateau in their professional growth. Over time, this contributes to quality improvement and boosts productivity, so that your employees, customers, and bottom line all benefit.

5. 3M’s – Muri, Mura, and Muda

The 3M’s were identified as part of the Toyota lean production system. They refer to three different categories of deviation that cause problems for companies. These issues can manifest themselves in manufacturing, research and development, marketing, or any number of other departments. The 3M’s refer to Japanese words that are usually translated as:

  • Muri – overburden caused by lack of resources, poor planning, or too much waste removal.
  • Mura – unevenness or irregularities which tend to be the source of ‘muda’ waste issues.
  • Muda – waste such as excessive transport, inventory, waiting, overproduction, or defects.

In pursuing a lean management approach to business, the 3M’s is one of the best continuous improvement tools for identifying problems that also eliminates waste. It can be used to highlight issues or opportunities for operations to become leaner. The system is helpful for total quality management and promoting the adoption of lean practices that create value for the customer.

6. Continuous Improvement Software

There are now many digital continuous improvement tools that offer powerful business benefits. They tend to leverage the best aspects of other improvement tools and combine them into one easy-to-use solution. Online platforms enable companies to easily capture ideas and feedback from employees. Some have built-in guides that walk people through continuous improvement processes (such as the PDCA cycle), empowering them to take action.

Continuous improvement software also makes analysis and reporting a breeze. Instead of spending time creating complex spreadsheets or gathering key performance indicators from different departments, reports can be generated instantly. This enables you to see how your company is progressing towards its continuous improvement goals and how productivity, profitability, or quality are being impacted.

Your Digital Continuous Improvement Tool

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing and tracking. Continuous improvement becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using Rever’s dashboard, you can monitor the performances of your teams, the summary of their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology and guides your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations.

Rever Cycle is our Answer to the PDCA methodology

At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker and thrive. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people to achieve their full creative potential.

Interested in learning more? Then get a demo today with one of our friendly lean management experts.

THE FRONTLINE DOJO

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