Process Excellence Essentials for Every Successful Continuous Improvement Culture

Mark Fendley

How can you encourage employees to learn, embrace and use Lean, Six Sigma, DMAIC or other process excellence tools for control and planning? Every company might take a slightly different approach, but some fundamentals are necessary for a process to gain momentum.

Using Process Excellence Methodology for Continuous Improvement

Engagement begins with a senior-level management commitment to the chosen methodologies becoming part of the way of doing business; the senior management team should be required to see the tools and process in use.

At BMW Manufacturing, we utilize associate involvement/ideas, Kaizen, Lean Transformations and Lean Six Sigma DMAIC projects as our methods for continuous improvement.

When the associate involvement/idea program and Kaizen programs began in 2000, we had targets at the vice president level for speed of implementation, percentage of employee participation and impact of improvement. Every department manager and vice president was measured on those three key indicators.

In order to support the velocity or speed of implementation targets, escalations of time milestones were linked into Microsoft Outlook e-mail. For example, a direct supervisor had 14 days to evaluate and accept or reject an idea submitted by an employee. If he failed to do this in 14 days, an e-mail notification would be sent to his vice president and department manager. This velocity adherence was a bonus. Similar indicators were used for Kaizen.

For Lean Six Sigma DMAIC projects, the impact is verified in a joint meeting of the CFO, Master Black Belts and other members of the financial team. In addition, the requirement has been made of every area of our organization, manufacturing and support/transactional departments that a Lean maturity assessment is completed. This is a 12-part, 50-plus question objective measure of the Lean maturity of a work area or department. Senior management has demonstrated unequivocally that the expectation is that our organization embraces these methodologies and tools.

Creating a Learning Organization Using Lean Six Sigma and Lean Management

You have to develop practitioners and early converts to your chosen methodology, whethor it be Six Sigma, Lean, etc. Your practitioners should also be well-respected since they can have a significant early impact if given the education and authority to bring about change.

At BMW Manufacturing, we had a core group of managers who came from Asian automotive OEMs, so we already knew Kaizen and employee involvement/ideas–the basis of knowledge already existed. With Lean Six Sigma, 19 high-potential employees were pulled from their departments, trained in Lean Six Sigma DMAIC methodology and tools and placed together for two years in a centralized working environment. This was the incubator environment for learning and practice.

This learning environment continues to thrive, acting as an internal consultant project office for associate involvement, Kaizen, Lean Six Sigma and Lean Transformation. This centralized team also trains and certifies more Black Belt and Kaizen facilitators who are embedded throughout the organization.

In addition, this organization supports the development of instructing classes to reach the entire campus population–classes such as Value Stream Mapping, Basic Problem Solving Tools, Basic Statistics, 5S, FMEA and Lean Simulation Games. The corporate goal is for every employee to go through a Lean Simulation game. This basis has lead to the demand for other courses as employee find themselves involved in DMAIC projects, Kaizen and Lean Transformations; they desire to have a higher degree of understanding of the tools.

Needed, Validated and Communicated Results With Six Sigma Programs

The focus of your process excellence program has to be on addressing the right issues and opportunities. The idea of just doing Kaizen or DMAIC projects to have a certain number done is not a good approach or measure. This drives the Black Belt, the Kaizen facilitator and the department manager to "find something to fix" just to make the quota of projects or activities. The measure has to be on impact to the organization, whether this is one activity or 1,000 activities.

At BMW Manufacturing, everything we do with our process excellence program is measured financially and against corporate targets. We want to assure we are improving indicators, our customer experience with our products and services, and our financials. Every continuous improvement activity is tracked, and the impact has to be measured. The validation is verifying with the target owners and our finance partners that the measures of impact are accurate and real. This applies from the associate ideas to Kaizen to Lean Six Sigma DMAIC projects. And all of this is only good if others know about it.

Celebrate and communicate the impact of your chosen process excellence initiatives and methodologies. BMW Manufacturing has a very good communication structure. We have daily news, a quarterly newspaper, intranet portals and a campus television network at our disposal. We utilize these media methods to describe projects and Lean initiatives to recognize those involved and to demonstrate the impact to our organization. Additionally, our senior management team conducts weekly reviews and visits of projects and project teams. We have found that this open communication drives a desire to be involved in our continuous improvement activities and to seek education and training. This perpetuates our methodology and leads to even greater organizational understanding and practice of the tools and methods.

Again, every company will develop what works for itself, because when it comes to continuous improvement, I have rarely found that "one size fits all." But in my opinion, the basic elements of serious senior management commitment, enabling and facilitating a learning organization by developing the talent to utilize the tools and methods, and measuring, validating and communicating the impact of continuous improvement are required. This separates those companies that simply say they have continuous improvement and those that can demonstrate the impact of continuous improvement in transforming the organization.