‘Kaizen’ means ‘continuous improvement’ in Japanese. As no process can ever be declared perfect, there is always room for improvement.
Nautitech team members pictured above. Below, GM Alex Lester talks about the dangers of embarking on Continuous Improvement (CI) programs such as Lean and six – sigma without first preparing a platform to launch from. 

What comes before Lean and Six Sigma?

At Nautitech the components of Lean and six – sigma that are applicable to the company’s success and growth have been implemented and are being lived by the whole team.Nautitech has a 99% delivery to all customers, and has improved the quality of their products immensely, while keeping prices static for 7 years. A phenomenal performance by everyone at the company, and one that is so rare in Australia. When you ask people about what their company does, they often describe products and services in great detail. Often overlooking the fact that all companies exist, no matter what business you are in, to make money. With that in mind senior managers rightly attend seminars seeking new ideas. Then head back to their respective companies with what they think is the elusive silver bullet they have been searching for. A God sent solution to the entire similar list of problems they are experiencing.

However the vast majority of LEAN, Six Sigma and LSS programs discovered and implemented in this way fail. Last count it was in the region of 90%. If you attend a Six Sigma seminar where a consultant is selling Six Sigma that is the only potential solution you will be offered. What are the chances of getting this right when the senior manager knows nothing about the methodology and the consultant knows nothing about the company?

There is nothing wrong with the methodologies, in the right application they can and will deliver awesome results. For me, the error is made by the company’s managers being seduced by buzz words and improvement claims of purist consultants. So if there is nothing wrong with the methodologies, to be more successful you should look at what should come before these methodologies?

Your Business management systems should be the platform that you launch from, they should be a means to an end. If your systems are not actively assisting you to add to the bottom line then you have to get them working for you first. Then and only then can you make the call on what CI (Continuous Improvement) you need.

Your business management Systems should increase your bottom line while meeting all your legal and ethical obligations. These systems should ensure compliance, and be linked to the pulse of your business. Minimising or preventing losses and incidents and highlighting how processes can be made more productive, consistent, safer and faster.

These Systems once developed can and should be integrated. They lay the foundations for your Process Improvement strategies. Lean, Six Sigma and or LSS without this foundation you will surely fail as you have no bedrock to anchor your improvement strategy in. By using all of your people to develop robust, easy to maintain systems that add value, you set yourself up for the CI program of choice. If for instance this is LEAN you do not have to launch LEAN, as it is just a continuation of your business management systems.
Mention Systems, Processes and Procedures though and people have nightmares. Most would rather get on with the sexy stuff and let someone else worry about the systems. So a house of cards is built that cannot support resource hungry CI programs.

So firstly build a solid platform by:

  • Using an inclusive and simplistic approach to Systems and procedure development
  • Use the commonly used terms and phrases of the company in simple to understand documentation
  • Map your processes in no more than 10 steps using the people who work in the processes
  • Only introduce CI methodologies if you are achieving consistent delivery and Quality (Strange but true)

Adding Lean or Six Sigma to a robust business management system, does not guarantee you success, but it does reduce the risk of failure. After all there are hundreds of ways to fail and only one way to get it right. So take a deep breath and do some honest internal assessment, if you feel you are not ready for CI, you are probably right. So rather than launching into the next big thing, which all so often gets automatically opposed, get to work fixing your systems and processes.So what comes before successful Lean and six – sigma? Hard work by your whole team that’s what, but If this makes the industry that we all work in safer, it has been worth the effort.Cheers and good luck with your CI initiatives and journey.

Sample video below: Kaizen and Toyota…