Continuous improvement can make a process better, improve safety and save dollars. But it’s a waste of time if the customer doesn’t like the end result.
How will the customer benefit? That’s the first question a company must ask itself before implementing a continuous improvement program. Dan Clark interviews Tony Ferraro about the practicality of Six Sigma, 5S, kaizen and lean in the world of manufacturing and industry.
Tony writes a blog for Creative Safety Supply on the many aspects of continuous improvement. See the transcript for links to his writing.
Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
Tony Ferraro: Just don’t go into it thinking about just your business. Think about your customer.
Dan Clark: You want to streamline work and reduce waste—and, at the same time, increase safety and save money. Is all of that possible? We have someone who can tell you how.
Hello there. I’m Dan Clark, and today were talking with Tony Ferraro, a man who has followed the path of 5S and lean. He’s one of our bloggers. Tony knows firsthand the world of continuous improvement. Hi, Tony!
Tony: Hey, Dan. Thanks for having me today.
Dan: Sure. So, tell us. What is continuous improvement?
Tony: In the manufacturing sector, there are many processes and steps that need to happen to manufacture even a single product. So, many times, these processes need improvement to help manufacture a product more efficiently while, also, not neglecting the quality factor.
Tony: Most importantly, continuous improvement is all about the customer, And, sadly, many times, we tend to forget this. So, you have to ask yourself when you improve a process “how’s it going to benefit the customer?” If you can improve a process that benefits the customer, the ROI is huge, Dan.
Dan: I have a story about the Red Delicious apple, and how continuous improvement actually made it worse. The Red Delicious apple is the classic red apple you find in the grocery store.
Dan: The growers of it wanted to have it bigger and juicier, and so they crossbred other apples and made sure that it got bigger and bigger, and it got to be one of the biggest apples in a grocery store. But they forgot that the taste was important too. It slowly became, kind of, a bland tasting apple and then they realized “Ohh, sales are falling.” People would buy it because it was huge, but then they got it home and they tasted it. And so the Red Delicious has really fallen from favor—because of flavor.
Dan: So, somebody was doing continuous improvement very slowly, but they forgot about the end-user. Isn’t that amazing?
Tony: Yes, and that’s, sadly, one the biggest problems with continuous improvement. They tend to forget about the customer.
Dan: Okay, well let’s just say that, ah, we have a manager or a business owner who wants to start a continuous improvement program. What are some of the roadblocks to starting it, and how do you overcome them?
Tony: Sure, Dan. The first part of your question is easy, okay. The second part of your question—that’s the more difficult part.
Tony: The most common roadblock to start any continuous improvement program is getting commitment from upper management. Commitment from upper management is the driving force to the success of any continuous improvement.
Tony: I mean, they’re fearful of breaking something that, to them, isn’t broken. So, to go answer your second part of the question on how to overcome this roadblock, that’s a bit tough. But, based on my experience, it’s best to show management that you completely evaluated the process, show them supporting data to why the process needs to be improved. Dan, I tend to find that most helpful.
Dan: So, it’s got to be from the top-down.
Dan: If the bosses aren’t on board, then you’re going to have a tough time.
Tony: Correct. Many times, sadly, continuous improvement projects tend to not even have the management approval, and it tends to fail pretty quickly.
Tony: It’s very important to have the commitment from the upper management. It even helps the, ah, overall morale of the employees that are involved in that project as well.
Dan: Now, you’ve been involved in continuous improvement before. What are some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve seen companies make when they try to implement the plan?
Tony: I think the first, biggest mistake is “Not thinking about the customer” when improving the process, like we mentioned earlier. In the end, the customer is what counts, and is the driving force behind your business.
Tony: The second, biggest mistake is “Not using the tools that are available to you.” An example of this would be kaizen. And, many times, continuous improvement projects skip the kaizen method.
To me, kaizen is just crucial to the improvement process. I mean, this is where your team building is done, ideas are generated to improve the processes. This is where stakeholders are currently involved in old processes, and are there to explain what is wrong with the process and how they think the process can improve. Remember, Dan, these stakeholders are the ones that use this process eight hours a day, every day.
Dan: The people in the trenches—they would know. And they can make a quick judgment without making the changes first.
Tony: Correct. These are the people that you really need to lean on to improve the overall process.
Dan: Did you say “lean?”
Tony: I just said “lean” (laughs).
Dan: Well, that’s good. One of the things that happens is employees sometimes worry about their job being eliminated. When they hear there’s a big program coming through, should they worry?
Tony: Honestly, Dan, this is all too common, and, unfortunately, it’s a negative stigma when it comes to, ah, continuous improvement.
Tony: Many times employees think when a company is looking to improve a process it’s all about cutting costs. When they hear “cutting costs,” they assume, right away, that the company’s going to eliminate employees. And this isn’t always the case. Sure, a process may be improved to the point where it takes less employees to complete the job, but those same employees are key to the success of your business. And they can improve another process that is struggling within your business.
Dan: So, if a company is doing continuous improvement right, it shouldn’t really change the workforce.
Tony: Absolutely not, I mean, if you’ve got a continuous improvement manager, or even a, ah, firm that comes in to help you and they’re all about eliminating some employees, they’re doing it all wrong.
Tony: It’s not about eliminating employees. It should never be about eliminating employees.
Dan: Can you think of any industries where continuous improvement can’t help them. It doesn’t apply?
Tony: That’s the beauty of continuous improvement, Dan. It can be done virtually anyplace, in any work environment. I’m talking, even, from schools to grocery stores—like you mentioned with the apple. And all the way up to manufacturing environments. Processes, procedures and practice can always be enhanced. And should be!
Dan: Mm-hm. Well, it seems to make sense. I mean, I’ve done continuous improvement in my garage (laughs).
Tony: Yeah, absolutely.
Dan: What does continuous improvement do the most? Does it increase safety, or increase profits?
Tony: Dan, it can do both, if done correctly.
Tony: When processes are improved, productivity is enhanced. And overall safety also benefits from that.
Dan: Morale there too?
Dan: A clean warehouse is a happy warehouse.
Tony: Absolutely (laughs).
Dan: Alright. Tony can you recommend any books or websites to start a journey in continuous improvement?
Tony: Sure, Dan. Ah, one of the important sites that people interested in continuous improvement need to check out is LinkedIn. There are groups within LinkedIn that are very beneficial and there’s one in particular called Lean Six Sigma.
Tony: Okay? It’s a very active group with a lot of the top continuous improvement users. There’s a lot to learn from this group. I mean, you go on there, you can ask them questions. You can even respond to people’s questions. And you’d be very surprised how friendly they are there, and how accepting they are when you join the group.
And, of course, I would also recommend our Creative Safety Supply blog. I do post many continuous improvement blogs there, and I feel that they’re definitely worth checking out.
Dan: Oh, good. Well, any, ah, final thoughts on implementing a continuous improvement program?
Tony: You know, Dan, all I’ve got to say is make sure you think about the customer. I mean, that’s one of the biggest problems when, ah, implementing any type of continuous improvement. Just don’t go into it thinking about just your business. Think about your customer, because they’re the driving force behind it.
Dan: Great, Tony thanks a lot. I appreciate your time today. Our guest has been Tony Ferraro, who is experienced in 5S, Six Sigma, kaizen and lean. He’s one of our bloggers.
Dan: Sounds like your fingers are all tired from being on the keyboard all day.
Tony: I enjoy it, Dan. It’s what I enjoy to do. I enjoy helping people.
Dan: Alright. Well, thanks very much Tony, and thanks for joining us. I’m Dan Clark.
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Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
rock image from Pixabay / Igor Suassuna; pushing man icon from Pixabay / OpenClips