Process Improvement

Gerwig 2014-05-23

Do you ever have to improve anything? Some of you may be required to make improvements as part of your job. Others of you may just want to make improvement in your home, department or community organization. There are a million reasons WHY it’s important to make improvements. A few of them include, cost savings, better customer experience and increased safety.

If you’ve worked for any length of time, you know about improving processes. Statistical process control (SPC). Kaizen. Quality Function Deployment. Lean. Six Sigma. Lean Sigma. PDCA (plan-do-check- act). A3s. Brainstorming. Fishbone (C&E) diagrams. Regression analysis. Value stream mapping. You know the drill. And all the buzzwords.

Organizations (especially public organizations) are looking for year-over-year improvements in nearly every area they measure (sometimes quarter-over-quarter). And they measure everything don’t they? You know what I mean. We have 20 measures (or metrics or KPIs – key process indicators) for Safety. We have 30 for Quality. Another 25 for Customer Satisfaction (or Customer Experience). And yet another set of metrics for Cost. Maybe 40 because there are more metrics for cost than for anything else. Right? And, by the way, we have 35 for our Operational Output.

Clearly the numbers above are make-believe and, perhaps slightly exaggerated, but they paint the picture. And it’s a picture I’ve seen in multiple industries and organizations around the globe. Have you seen it?

Improvement has become part of our DNA. Agree? Do something today. Do the same thing better tomorrow. Or this afternoon. As the “doer” of the improvement, it’s a challenge, I know. But as consumers, we love process improvement. Don’t we? It helps keep the prices for goods low. It means we receive our package more quickly. It means there are fewer airline crashes. And so on.

And process improvement isn’t just limited to the corporate environment. You and I routinely look to make improvement in our personal lives. Find a quicker route to work. Simplify (i.e. improve) our household chores such as cutting the grass, doing the laundry and washing cars. When I replaced an old weed-eater (weed-wacker) I purchased one that didn’t require a gas-oil mixture because my lawn mower didn’t require a mix. Previously, I had two separate cans, one can of gas for the lawn mower and one can of gas (mixed with oil) for the weed-eater. On occasion, I’d gotten the two cans mixed up and put the wrong gas in the wrong machine. Not good. So, I simplified. I made an improvement. I eliminated the need for two different types of gas thus eliminated one can and the chance of getting the wrong gas in the wrong machine.

I hear what some of you are saying. Simply “mark” the cans. For example, write “Gas Mix” on one can. Or “Lawn Mower” on the other. Yes, you’re right. There are many ways to improve in every scenario. The point is not what improvement you would make, the point is that we’re faced with improvement in all areas of our life. Work. Play. Home. Studio. Office. Ballfield. You’re either improving or your overlooking areas that can be improved. Or a combination of both.

I’ve spent most of my life making improvements. In myself. In processes. At work. At home. In the pool. In the garage. In the warehouse. Etc. My job has required me to focus on improvement for nearly 3 decades. Today, it’s part of who I am. And one of the key learnings I’ve had is that many improvements are those that lie at the interface of smaller units of the larger organization, the interface of two separate departments, the interface of your team with the league office, the interface of your company with the customer, the interface of you and your spouse, and so on. You get the point.

Why are these interfaces often ripe for process improvements? They’re hard. They require working across organizational boundaries. They require working with someone else. They require influencing skills. They require getting outside-the-box. There are many reasons why it’s hard to work the interface, the boundary, but there are also many opportunities here that are waiting for you. They’re waiting to be improved.

The tools of improvement are important. The people you select for your team are important (especially if the team has just one person, you!). But equally, and perhaps more, important is the problem you select. And while it’s great to select improvements that lie within your functional area, your department, your plant, your team, your site, etc., please remember to look at the interface. And when you look, what will you find? Low-hanging fruit. Untapped treasure. Opportunities ready for improvement. It’s at the interface that you’ll find satisfied customers. Happy spouses. Healthy children. Winning teams.

One quick example: to more quickly meet demand and satisfy your customers, what is required? Is it simply a matter of shipping goods more quickly? Is customer satisfaction simply in the hands of your shipping department? You know the answer. It’s “No!” In order for your shipping department to get goods to the customer on time, a thousand things have to happen correctly upstream. These “things” are part of a process that cuts across organizational boundaries. If there isn’t a smooth process, goods don’t get to the customer on-time. The process boundaries, or interfaces, often pose the most difficult challenge. Want to improve the process? Look at process boundaries and improve the interface.

Yes, improve within your department, function or organization, but don’t overlook the opportunity and benefit that lies at the interface. You and society will be better off for it. Good luck.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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