Sunday, July 13, 2008

Commencing on a Path to Continuous Improvement

Let's assume we are ready to break out from the pack and shift our efforts to include a real sustained, continuous focus on improving for each and every project. How would we do that? Many car manufacturers have attempted this mind set shift with varying levels of success. It's not an easy overnight change. It's top to bottom change in the way we approach projects and will take multiple projects to migrate the culture of the organization in this new direction.

The absolute first step is to define what continuous improvement is to be for your organization. What's the mission for continuous improvement? Write it down and share it, review it, and gain a majority consensus from your team as to the mission. When you say continuous improvement, what do you want that to mean to each member of your organization. Is it an unenthusiastic "yeah, we are working to improve" or is it a wholehearted "yes, for every project we engage upon we have three improvement actions we do. We can't start a project without these in place". It's a culture change and it requires routine nourishment from the top to thrive. Consider how you could inspire a passion that will propel continuous improvement from project to project.

Continuous Improvement defined: Uninterrupted, without time boundaries, without content boundaries, without intermission. It's not just deciding to look at how your last project was done or how you are doing a specific task. If at some point in time you decide to look at how you're doing things; that is not continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is not a snapshot look at your situation; it's a never-ending pursuit of removing the barriers to NPD execution excellence.
Continuous improvement is:

  • Postmortems with actions and tracking of action closure for every project.
  • An environment that seeks out and generates actions for doing things different.
  • An open door policy on the subject of project waste and always taking action for mitigation of that waste.
  • An emphasis on "why not" instead of "why" when looking at doing things differently.
  • Iterative experimentation for project improvements. This is real trials of ideas, not paper exercises.
  • An always, never ending search for procedural improvements that benefit time to revenue.
If you are not a believer in continuous improvement your team will sense this and any potential benefit will be lost at the starting gate. You must become a believer yourself. Develop your continuous improvement passion within, before engaging your team. Best of luck and do let me know how you are doing on your quest to stand out from the crowd on NPD execution.

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