Sustainable Positive Change
A step-by-step Guide to Process Improvement and Change Resistance Mitigation
This article has information for those new to continuous improvement and those long in the practice. So please be patient as we review some basics. Continuous improvement implies a pursuit of excellence. In dynamic market and organizational conditions, the goals and objectives of a business change, or should change periodically. Businesses must adapt to remain relevant, competitive, and profitable. In regulated industries such as Oil & Gas, Automotive, Aerospace or Medical Device Manufacturing & Pharmaceutics, customer requirements weigh heavily on how a business implements a quality management system. These conditions result in frequent customer audits. An effective quality management system must ensure compliance and promote interested party engagement with little to no action from the Quality Manager. It should be inherent to the day-to-day operations. It is essential that these systems work.
Yet the survey results indicate this is not always the case.
Let’s do a quick review to consider what are the minimum viable tools and infrastructure for an effective management system.
Plan, Do, Check, Act, (or) Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control: these are the mantras of continuous improvement professionals. These processes which make up management system elements have long been demonstrated to be sufficient. It is worth stating that to plan or define, we must identify the point of origin: the current state. How we improve if we don’t know what to improve? It might seem like semantics. However, many years in Quality and Operations Management have shown me that sometimes, it can be equally difficult to identify the cause of a problem as it is to recognize there is one. My opinion is that this is often due to individual(s) resistance to change. Regardless, this is why I maker a distinction.
Innovators like Deming, Juran, Ishikawa, Taguchi spent their lives developing tools and methods of continuous improvement. Independently and collectively, they produced the models of improvement, now commonly known as PDCA or DMIAC. PDCA works like this:
Plan: Organizational goals and objectives – what does good look like?
Do: How are we going to accomplish the goals and objectives: The Plan
Check: Problem detection/identification: how are undesired results captured, communicated, and actioned?
Act: Fixing real issues – process improvement and change management: the way things get better.
DMIAC is commonly used in Six Sigma and focuses on sustained gain. As discussed above, I argue the necessity to add a “Recognize” step before the Define step. For this reason, let’s consider the RDMIAC process.
Recognize [that there is a problem] Define the problem, improvement activity, opportunity for improvement, the project goals, and customer (internal and external) requirements.
Measure process performance.
Analyze the process to determine root causes of variation, poor performance (defects).
Improve process performance by addressing and eliminating the root causes.
Control the improved process and future process performance.
Did You Know?
Have you ever wondered why Japan is renowned for efficiency, quality and reliable products? Deming and Juran went to Japan after World War II at the request of Japanese business leaders to help improve efficiency and performance. The Japanese recognized the value of ensuring that something was done only once and only done the right way. They believed failure to accomplish this resulted in significant additional cost correcting the problem. The thought was that the cost of rework consumed labor, materials and occupied machines which could otherwise be producing more products. Ishikawa and Taguchi spent time working with Deming and Juran to learn the emerging principles of quality assurance and quality control. Collectively, the group eventually led the development of simplification, lean manufacturing and other continuous improvement principles. Some speculate these ideas melded with the culture of Japan very naturally, leading to easy adoption. Ironically, when Juran and Deming worked to persuade American business leaders what the Japanese had so readily implemented, Americans didn’t perceive the value of quality management or continuous improvement. By the 1970’s American products had earned a reputation of poor quality and reliability. On the other hand, the Japanese quickly learned quality management and continuous improvement which resulted in a reputation of quality products and efficiency which persists to this day.
If continuous improvement fundamentals are practiced in an organization, an effective management system will result. Some might point out that more structure is necessary for a quality management system. It is true. However, given sufficient time following CI methods will lead you to identify what most management system standards (MSS) describe as a management system. For instance, ISO 9001:2015 identifies seven elements of a MSS:
Customer focus. This is the idea that organizations depend on their customers and therefore should understand current and future customer needs, should meet customer requirements and strive to exceed customer expectations.
Leadership: Leaders at all levels establish unity of purpose and direction and create conditions in which people are engaged in achieving the quality objectives of the organization.
Engagement of people: Competent, empowered and engaged people at all levels throughout the organization are essential to enhance its capability to create and deliver value.
Process approach: A desired result is achieved more efficiently when activities and related resources are managed as a process.
Improvement: Managing activities and resources as a process (versus departments or isolated tasks) is more effective and tends to provide better results.
Evidence-based Decision Making: Facts, evidences and data analysis form the basis for good decision making.
Relationship Management: For sustained success, organizations manage their relationships external providers (suppliers, contractors, service providers) as the mutually beneficial relationship enhances the ability of both to create value.
This definition works well in most manufacturing and service organizations, has been thoroughly tested and likely reflects best practice for a refined management system. For this reason, ISO 9001 is the most prolific standard to date.
Understanding the Problem
Every business has problems. Your company may have a few problems you can name right now. Cash flow, strained customer relationships, employee related issues are common to many. However, some of these may be causing the others. You must determine which are systemic, and which are consequential (or indirect). What if addressing one problem alleviated the others? This is a possibility, which means that working on the wrong problem has the potential to inversely impact others. There are simple, practical exercises which can help you determine where to give attention.
In a hypothetical scenario, your daughter’s car has poor fuel economy, a headlight which burns out every time you replace it, nearly has an accident when trying to stop, worn paint, torn seats, and the radio doesn’t always turn on. Which issues are going to get the most attention? Hopefully those related to safety! Let’s place those issues into two categories to better analyze the problems:
The issues in Group B can result in an accident or even death. Those need immediate attention. Group A are annoying, but not life-changing.
Two of the problems in Group B could be related – the headlight and poor fuel economy might be caused by an electrical issue. Let’s say that you visit a mechanic who tells you the brakes need service and your car does in fact have an electrical problem which seems to result with the headlight issue and poor fuel economy. Fortunately, there was a manufacture recall which addressed the issues. You have the mechanic service the brakes and fix the electrical problem. Interestingly, the radio issues go away also. But, why did these things happen? What was the root cause?
Problem identification is better known as root-cause analysis. There are many tools which accomplish effective problem analysis. In the same way that a hammer is not good at removing screws, some root-cause methodologies are better suited for certain problems than others.
Consider this; in the scenario where your car had the electrical problem, perhaps the manufacture received several hundred warranty claims for the same issue. They need to identify the problem or potential problems of a sophisticated system. A well-defined problem analysis plan can be used to test out the most probable causes. In this case, a Fishbone chart may be employed to assess potential origins. This provides a structured method to quickly assess a complex problem. However, it is a starting point that requires validation. After hypothesizing, testing (where possible) should be accomplished to validate the conclusion. Once the cause or causes are identified, a control plan can be established, and fixes implemented.
What about less sophisticated approaches for problems which are not so complex? 5-why is a simple and effective way to analyze a problem and identify the root-case. By asking the question “why” enough times, it is possible to properly identify the origin of the problem. Let’s look at the brake near-failure using the 5-why method.
Why is the paint on the car is damaged and fading?
Answer: the car sits outside exposed to the elements.
Why does the car sit outside exposed to the elements?
Answer: because the garage is full of the family’s belongings.
Why is the garage full of the family’s belongings?
Answer: Because the mother-in-law moved into the house so that the family could care for her.
At this point, asking the question “why” is of no further use. For this scenario, immediate problem correction is to have a body shop correct the damage. Root cause fix might be to move grandmas’ belongings into a storage unit so that the car may be parked in the garage. Another solution might be problem mitigation: The car gets covered with a car cover when the vehicle is not in use.
Take the case of the brake performance failure. Let’s say the mechanic reported that the brake pads had been worn down completely resulting in the near accident. Brake pads wear. It is a characteristic of their design to sacrifice themselves by converting energy into heat, resulting in a stationary car. As a result, occasionally they require replacement. The break wear is not the issue. The issue is why the brake pads were not replaced before they had become completely worn. So, we ask the question again:
Why were the brake pads not replaced at the correct interval?
Answer: Because the teenage daughter regularly using the car thought the braking performance was normal.
Why was the teenage daughter not familiar with typical braking performance?
Answer: she is a new driver.
Why had she not received instruction regarding car performance and maintenance?
Answer: Because her parents did not teach her routine car maintenance.
Why had her parents not thoroughly instructed their daughter regarding car maintenance?
Answer: Because they were quite busy with work.
Common Mistakes and How to Avoid
Mistake: not leaving your office or desk. Unless you are walking the process, this perspective does not give you a birds-eye view of what is really happening and will lead to an inaccurate process map in the end.
What to do: Have some discussions with stake holders before gathering a team together. Try to identify any individuals which may have special knowledge or perform key functions. These individuals have unique knowledge and perspective. If they have a role/step, they need to be included.
NOTE: in large organizations or complex operations, another useful tool could be to conduct a Lean Event. Interestingly, the United States EPA has valuable and useful resources publicly available including a complete presentation and guide on Lean. Lean is not a process mapping tool, but rather a systematic way to identify waste in a process, then eliminate and simplify. Lean is itself a robust continuous improvement method.
Mistake: thinking you know how the process really works. Maybe you do know, but all organizations experience drift over time. Accept that things may have changed and have changed for legitimate reasons.
What to do: Listen! This is a fact-finding mission. Ask lots of questions such as: what happens when? How do you accomplish a, b, c? What happens next? What if? Where does x, y or z go when you get done with it?
Mistake: Not including all the right people in designing or changing the process. If they have a role/step, they need to be included.
What to do: Let the process guide you. As you conduct interviews, identify what happens next or when something moves to the stage. Don’t be surprised when individuals perform the same task. Document the process as you identify it. Again, don’t resolve any undesirable conditions yet!
It’s not likely further detail would enhance problem resolution. In this case, the issue is a failure to provide robust and comprehensive training or instruction. The immediate correction should provide a supplementary fix and root cause corrective action should address that failure to prevent re-occurrence.
Using correct methodology will help to categorize and define problems. According to the continuous improvement models, the next step is to identify the existing process.
Select the problem which needs the most attention. What process is being followed today (there is always a process, even if it is broken)? Before your organization can improve, you must know how your operations truly work. Map your process.
Process mapping is key and relatively easy. However, there are some common errors with process mapping. See the sidebar on the rights for a few common mistakes to avoid & tips which will help to successfully identify what’s really going on in your business.
There a many process mapping tools available which are easy to use. Visio is one. Personally, like Lucid Chart due to ease of use and its flexibility being web-based. It’s also very inexpensive and simple to invite team members for collaboration. Draw.io and www.creately.com are some other good options to consider. Find something that works for you.
Once you have mapped your process, have a brief follow up meeting with the stake holders and key contributors. Confirm that the process identified is reasonably accurate. Don’t go for perfect. Instead, clearly communicate to your team that the goal of the exercise is to identify how things work most of the time – the typical process. Even if the outcome is undesirable – remember current state. If changes are necessary, mark up your process and get buy in with signatures. The buy-in will be critical as you need to start building small successes.
You may think it's time to start working thru the problem with your team now. I'm willing to bet that you will face resistance. And you probably know that. While you may be ready for improvement, the question which needs to be asked is: Is your team ready for change? The answer you are likely to find is: "No, I like things the way they are”. Read on as we propose some tools to help you identify root cause to resistance.