Company Initiatives Come and Go, but Make the Gains Stick

shutterstock_53113450When I joined GE, Six Sigma was a big, company-wide program, and certification was mandatory.  My peers and I all completed projects, and, across the company, Six Sigma helped deliver millions of dollars in cost savings.

Not every company goes as deep into an initiative as GE has done with Six Sigma. But, even Six Sigma at GE has changed. There are still Six Sigma roles, projects and training – and it is still taken very seriously, but it is no longer mandatory. New employees do not have to receive training or take on projects. We don’t always look at a problem and immediately start thinking about which Six Sigma tools we could apply. When it was completely engrained in our thinking, we really did that, every day.

The same thing happens at other companies – and there are as many different initiatives as there are ice cream flavors. But, the initiative itself is just a tool; it’s not the end goal.  The end goal is to reduce costs, increase quality, speed inventory turns, or whatever other area you want to improve. The initiative can help you get there, but once you meet your goal, what happens?

Initiatives come and go, but do the positive effects stay in place? Without tight process controls, it is too easy for backsliding to occur, and people revert to old, comfortable behaviors. I’m here to tell you – don’t lose the benefits that you have gained. Keep the momentum going, separate from the life of the umbrella initiative. You worked hard to achieve the gains – and it wasn’t for the sake of the initiative – it was because there was a real problem that you were addressing.

So, how do you make sure the gains stick without the daily or weekly meetings around the initiative or report-outs on it? Six Sigma has the Control phase, but that can easily break down without the energy of on-going meetings to drive it. One aspect of Lean that I love is Standard Work. Once you have decided on what process changes need to occur, the changes become part of Standard Work, the regular work process.

One of my favorite quotes: "When there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.” - Taiichi Ohno, Father of Toyota Production System and Lean Manufacturing.

Make the improvements standard to keep the gains. If you automate Standard Work, that’s even better. Not only are you making the new process standard, but you’re automating it to guide workers through the steps of the process – even with integrated manual entry. Additionally, you can capture best practices and digitize them, which mean your best processes will stay in place, with the enforcement of software behind them, until you need to review and modify them again.

Today, the enforcement of proper procedures is even easier than it was five years ago. Mobilized Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) prompt and guide users, driving the right actions based on location, role, timing, and real-time events. This technology eases training, enables faster response and empowers workers with information at their fingertips.

Regardless of the name of your company initiatives, make your positive changes standard and use automation to keep them in place for the long term. That’s how to keep the momentum going!

Take a look at this white paper about enabling Standard Work to increase cost savings and maintain momentum. It talks about Lean – but you can substitute the name of your own favorite initiative flavor.

Alicia Bowers's picture

Alicia Bowers

Alicia Bowers believes that automation software can help industrial organizations overcome many challenges, including retiring workforces, global competition, and tightening regulations. She has published in industry magazines, ranging from Food Manufacturing to Hydrocarbon Engineering, and is the recipient of a MESA Outstanding Contribution Award. Connect with Alicia on LinkedIn.

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