Is Your Company Getting Fitter or Fatter?


Exercising Problem-Solving Techniques Keeps Your Company Lean

Continuous improvement stops once a company stops applying consistent energy to the change process. Keeping lean team members involved in problem-solving efforts keeps them in shape so they can continue to recognize problem areas and opportunities for continuous improvement that add value to the organization.

Unlocking the value in your organization requires constant energy.

Perhaps the most poorly understood factor in sustaining positive change is that the changed process falls apart as soon as efforts to maintain the improvement stop. There is a real lack of appreciation for what is required to keep changed systems operating in good shape.

Implementing change can be likened to swimming. When a swimmer stops all activity, forward progress not only stalls, but the swimmer can actually sink. A sign posted on the door of a local gym offered another way to think of the necessity to keep working to maintain improvements. The sign reads, “You are either getting fitter or you are getting fatter.”

Fitter or Fatter?

Most change is built by companies with people with a high degree of energy and a learned set of skills who participate in problem-solving activities. We could describe this as being fit.

To keep fit, those people have to constantly react and implement additional changes based on new circumstances. Things like different products, suppliers, and workers that are continually thrown into an improved system create the need for more change. Those involved with the system need to have the knowledge, dedication, and time to monitor day-to-day activities and solve problems fast enough to keep up with shifting variables. Only a high level of continuous effort keeps continuous improvement working in the changing environment.

Systems break down when inevitable changes occur and the team loses its problem-solving energy. We could call this becoming fat.

Even the most visually designed workplace with all of the elements of 5S—sort, separate, shine, standardize, and sustain—will drift toward chaos as soon as the first shadow board is not updated for the new wrench or broom location.

Staying in Shape

Ongoing participation in problem solving keeps people in shape so they notice and react to deviations from standards. It also helps to establish a culture where employees can stop and think through a deviation to uncover a breakdown cause and devise a solution.

Think of managing lean as similar to managing a sports team. Regular practice is important for the athletes even if they have demonstrated they are in shape for the big game. And a coach is invaluable to guide the team to a win.

A lean initiative leader who exercises team members by involving them in day-to-day problem-solving activities builds a team that can react to new circumstances, avoid system breakdowns, and win by sustaining valuable change.

Help your organization understand the need to apply consistent energy to the change process. And point it out quickly if the team starts getting fat–losing its lean edge–so it still can get back into shape.

Let’s breathe life back into the tired term continuous improvement.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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