Continuous Improvement Training: The Current State of Mind

By: Clint McCrystal - Training and Development Manager

The other day I was thinking about a quote from “Kung Fu Panda,” an enjoyable family film. The wise old turtle (Master Oogway) provided the following sage words-to-live-by to the main character, Po: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.” That is why it is called the “present.” A typical lean leader may find many faults in this statement when considering their organization. For instance, all great leadership should leverage the learning of the past to gain strength and evolve. And additionally, the progressive organization is forward-looking and should have a perfect plan of attack so that the future holds very few surprises.

Continuous Improvement Training

However, those differences would be missing the point that I believe is properly made in the quote. Today is valuable and we need to treat it as such. I’m specifically referring to the “current state.”

As a team member in our organization focused on the training and development of our operations team members, I have had the opportunity to lead several sessions focused on problem solving and continuous improvement training. This is in addition to conveying some fundamental lean principles to newer hires. Moreover, I have been working through some of LeanCor’s online lean training. Through all of this, one thing has been made abundantly clear. In order to properly solve problems, continuously improve and generally move your organization in the right direction, team members need to have a firm grasp on the current state, aka today.

Why is the current state so important, especially if it is undesirable? Well, the current state reflects the aforementioned “present.” It gives us the opportunity to understand where we are and forms the first rung in the ladder that will connect us to the future state that we are so enthusiastically pursuing. If we haven’t painted a clear picture of the current state, it is very difficult to set goals that we can work towards as a team. Having a clear baseline of the system and all related processes is integral for projecting our organization forward in any meaningful way.

We have to ask ourselves: “What are we improving upon?” The answer, of course, is the current state. If I haven’t put in the effort to study what that looks like, I certainly won’t know where to find the problems and non-value added activities that a lean leader so desires to uncover and eradicate. Below are some great starting points that we advocate in our continuous improvement training for gaining understanding with respect to the current state.

  1. Going to the Gemba – This isn’t the first blog post in which I call out the importance of going and seeing the work being done. It is important enough that it probably won’t be the last either. Walking through the workplace, engaging with the team members that execute the work and taking note of any visual management is a great way to start gaining an understanding of what is happening today in our organization.
  1. Process Mapping – Process mapping is a powerful, powerful exercise. It promotes collaboration between cross-functional team members and may act as the first strategic documentation of our system. Furthermore, process mapping can lead to the discovery of “hidden factories” within an organization’s processes. Hidden factories are process steps (or sub-processes) that have developed over time and typically represent non-value added activities that are undocumented, unaccounted for and have become necessary in the current state to achieve the ultimate task.
  1. Taking an Inventory of Measurement Systems – The Gemba time and process mapping activities promote high levels of fact-finding and investigating. Further learning can come from gathering data. Determine what process steps are currently being controlled and measured and decide on whether or not additional data collection methods are needed. Typically, data is needed to help confirm what our situation is with respect to areas such as process timing, variation and quality with respect to our customer’s needs. Large sample sizes are often needed to draw these comparisons meaningfully.
  1. Ensuring the Quality of Standard Work - Taiichi Ohno, the great mind behind the Toyota Production System, is famously quoted for saying “Where there is no standard, there can be no Kaizen.” We have to stabilize and standardize our processes to have a strong enough starting point to gauge how significantly we can improve those processes. It is critical to observe whether or not there is established standard work and if it is being properly followed/kept current. Standard work represents a significant topic of conversation in any problem solving and continuous improvement training.

Having a deep understanding of the current state is crucial in projecting forward a desired future state and completing the associated gap analysis. Key organizational decisions cannot be based on guesswork or what we “think” is happening. This is something that we have to know. Without appreciating and investing in learning about where we are, tomorrow really may be a mystery to us.

Lean leaders should be eager to learn about their business. This gives us the opportunity to pull out our sweet lean toolbox and all of the tactics that were discussed in our continuous improvement training. Unwrapping the “present” should be really exciting. After all, I’m sure we’ll find some problems hidden in there somewhere. And what is more fun than solving problems? Maybe watching “Kung Fu Panda.” But probably not.


Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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