Why is our CI programme deflating?

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I am continuous improvement manager on a manufacturing site employing around 400 people. We have been running a CI initiative on our site for five years. It contains many of the classic elements of such programmes including lean Six Sigma, 5S, total productive maintenance and just-in-time delivery. It also incorporates PDCA cycles; indeed, we have been constantly reviewing what we do, measuring everything to ensure that the changes we implement will make a positive and lasting difference. We recognised at the outset that we had to take steps to change the behaviour of our employees so that they would buy into the kaizen (continuous improvement) idea. We also did our best to manage people's expectations so that they didn't lose heart because, for example, things didn't change as quickly as they thought they would. We were able to overcome some initial resistance to change and head off cynicism about the CI process by carefully planning, organising and implementing the programme to win people over. Eventually, everybody – even our shopfloor moaning Minnies – not only signed up to the CI concept, but seemed positively enthusiastic about it. In fact, until earlier this year everything was going really well. The results speak for themselves. We have made massive improvements in business performance by dramatically improving our production processes and reducing our costs. Our visual management is outstanding and we have made constructive changes to the plant layout. All this has helped our people boost productivity to record levels. However, over the past six months or so I have noticed a distinct change in the 'atmosphere' of the business and in the attitude of many of our employees. It seems to me that the CI programme is rapidly running out of steam. People – including many of the senior management team – seem to have got bored with the entire process; they are no longer enthused and a degree of complacency has set in. In short, the novelty of CI seems to have worn off. I would like to know what steps I can take to reinvigorate our CI programme? Any assistance you can give me would be gratefully received. CI Solution - Pete Austin of Suiko gives the expert view... It sounds like you got off to a great start and have been enjoying the early fruits of an embryonic CI programme – well done. Unfortunately, this is the easy bit. Sustainability – the harder bit – is a common trap which, unless addressed now, will be more ammunition for the 'we've tried it before and it failed' and 'I told you it wouldn't work' brigades. There are hundreds of reasons why programmes stutter and then fail, but from what you have described I would advise you to have a good look at the following three areas: Leadership commitment ? Does the board and leadership team really believe in it? ? Are they setting the example every day by doing their own 'go see' and attending performance reviews, challenging poor performance, but also coaching and mentoring? ? Do they use the tools (PDCA) themselves? ? Have they noticed the programme is off the boil – why have they not acted? This is the biggest reason programmes fail. If you feel there is a weakness in this area, take time out to coach the board and explain their role within the process. Think about how to get the message across: should it be as a board or as individuals? But be careful – there is a lot of pride at stake and egos in play. I have seen so many leaders wanting the benefits of CI, but for it to happen around them not with them. If, however, you get the board onside, the programme will fly and you will be winning awards. Governance structure of the programme ? Is there a steering team? Who is on the steering team, do they carry enough influence in the business? ? Does it meet regularly with full attendance and is it disciplined? Does it walk the talk of how we do things around here? ? Are the trackers meaningful and up to date? This is for both results and behaviour changes (use a maturity model for this). Are they visible? ? Are both the risk logs and communication plans live and constantly being updated? If the governance of the programme is weak, the programme will be sub-optimal. Search out good examples and then change your process. Sustainability plan for the CI programme ? Is the CI programme aligned to the business strategy? ? Is there a defined road map which the CI journey is taking and is the progress measurable? Are you celebrating success? ? Is there a connected checking process?(whereby the next level up in the business checks the quality of the tool using audits or 'go sees')? Do not be afraid to include senior managers and the board on the connected checking plan. ? Is there a formal train-coach-review cycle? Again, this an area that is often missed as all the business's energy is put into getting the tools together in the first place. Planning for sustainability is hugely important. Good luck implementing it.