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So ... "how" do we improve?

Most continuous improvement or operational excellence programs that I encounter are very "project focused". A recent business need has shone a light on an opportunity and resources are mobilized to lead, facilitate, or coach an improvement event/project. "Let's get our tools out and react to this new problem!"

I am not going to pretend that there are never urgent needs in the business. I am not going to claim that all problem solving and improvement should be reserved for initiatives chartered by executive leadership. However, I am going to challenge that improvement priorities should be set strategically and improvement "portfolios" aligned to shared organizational goals.



KPI Tree for Safety with Improvement Areas Identified

In the image above is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tree. This particular example is to pursue a strategic goal of lowering the Recordable Incident Rate, which is the number of recordable events per 1,000 hour works. To affect the 'rate' we can only impact the numerator in the equation, the number of incidents. The hours worked are driven by customer demand. A KPI is then broken down to its "requirements". What needs to be true to achieve the goal? The target reduction in recordable incidents would be associated to category/type of incident when performing work and the daily behaviors that promote safety. Requirements are fulfilled by the underlying "processes". The last level is the "evidence or metrics" associate with the processes. This is where the opportunity for improvement should be identified and targeted. For example, the far left side of the KPI tree should incident count due to sprains and strains. We know that the two processes in place to prevent sprains and strains are proper "stretching" before the job and proper "technique", form and tools per approved SOP. Historical data may indicate to us that a high percentage of the recorded sprains/strains were documented with deviation from proper technique. Targeting an improvement at this specific piece of evidence enables the team to focus and verify effectiveness of their solutions.


We couple that with the other four areas circled and we have an improvement portfolio for our safety goal. Rooted in data and observation, specific enough to change process, able to be monitored for change. Priority for improvement of this goal is established. This is the Plan (of PDCA). The organization would then Do the work with a Check and Adjust cycle embedded in their daily management system. If data and trends change, the teams may need to respond and adjust priority, but we SHOULD NOT react to blips in data due to recency bias and abandon our strategy. Only if we resolve the targeted problem or another issue takes over a leading contributor should the team pivot.


Leaders that link Process Improvement to their Strategy Deployment and anchor it in their Daily Management end up where we can Improve LESS ... and get better results.


I am curious about your experience as an internal improvement resource or continuous improvement consultant. What tools/methods have you used to deploy strategy and cascade metrics?

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