Lean Manufacturing, Production

Continuous Improvement Tools - Vital in your True North Journey

By Jon Richardson
05 Aug 20

What are Continuous Improvement Tools and what does Continuous Improvement really mean anyway? The idea of continuously improving can seem daunting. There are many facets and approaches to Continuous Improvement. Don't get caught up in the rhetoric. Like so many philosophies, memorizing every term is not the important point. So, take a deep breath and relax while we talk about Continuous Improvement and Continuous Improvement Tools in words we use every day. You'll be amazed how easily these ideas translate to the 'real' world and even to your own life in particular. 

Continuous Improvement is True North

One way to conceptualize Continuous Improvement in simple terms is to think of it as always driving towards "True North". Where is 'True North' on the map exactly? How do you know when you're there? Much like True North in our own lives, on a personal level, driving towards True North means always seeking to be and do better. Continuously. Not once a year as a resolution to be discarded by Valentine's Day. Striving to reach the best version: of yourself, your relationships, your dealings with others, both inside and outside your business life.

Continuous Improvement does not mean only perfection is acceptable. As my good friend, Voltaire, liked to say, "Perfect is the enemy of good". 

In relation to the use of Continuous Improvement Tools, driving towards True North includes the unrelenting pursuit to identify and eliminate waste. "True North" is a concept in the Lean Continuous Improvement process. It is an idea that emerged from Toyota years ago, symbolically using the needle of a compass as a metaphor for the Lean transformation process. True North works as a compass, providing a guide to take an organization from the current condition to where they want to be, "True North". In many ways, it might be viewed as a mission statement, the purpose of an organization, and the foundation of a plan.

In the context of Lean, True North is a precise, concise, and universal set of ideals. These ideals, when considered and implemented together, provide a compass that transcends any one organization, strategy, geography, or culture.

Continuous Improvement Tools

Continuous Improvement Tools come in various shapes and sizes. Many products have been developed that are intended to help the user gain knowledge and understanding of how and when to utilize these Continuous Improvement Tools.

There are many terms and tools that have become remarkably familiar "buzz" words over the years. Terms and tools such as Kaizen, Yokoten, Jidoka, Takt Time, Level Loading, Standardized Work, and Problem Solving for example. If you've been walking the Lean path for some time, all of these words evoke certain thoughts and ideas about your Lean journey. When you took your first steps down that path, who could have imagined that these words would become part of our everyday vernacular? Perhaps equally amazing is the reality that in addition to talking the talk, we've embraced walking the walk. These are not just buzz words representing the current flavor of the month. We grasp the philosophies these embody as well. 

Maybe that's really the key that unlocks the box of Continuous Improvement Tools: embracing change and being open to new methods and philosophies. 

All of these elements play strategic roles in the overall Continuous Improvement process, both individually as well as collectively. They are not only essential, they are immensely powerful as well. Incorporate them and essential tools to be used to ensure a robust lean continuous improvement process is utilized.

It takes more than just one or two of these tools to propel the drive towards "True North". Utilizing these Continuous Improvement Tools is the foundation to create and foster the culture of Continuous Improvement within your organization. 

Lean Continuous Improvement Tools are no different than skills employed in other arenas. The tools must be developed and honed, just as carpenters, athletes, and musicians must learn and master their "tools of the trade" if they are to remain competitive and viable. Each tool must be ingrained through implementation, practical lean activities, and mastering the tools over time and continued use. Learning to master these tools long term will lay the groundwork for further lean system and site development and transformation.

Where Do You Start?

We have all been in this situation time and time again. We understand the buzzwords and tools. Still, it can be overwhelming and intimidating to identify how and where to start. We know there is waste within our processes and there are big opportunities for improvements to be made. However, we may not have a clear path or understanding of the current condition and where to start the journey of continuous improvement. Don't worry! You are no different than many other organizations!

There are many different approaches from which to choose along your journey of Continuous Improvement, and no one absolute or correct path. Do I start with the Philosophy and Vision, Process Improvement, Focus on People approach, or use Problem Solving? 

The great news is you can have all of the Continuous Improvement Tools available and ready to go in your Toolbox! Utilizing most or all of these tools in your shop is essential to create the culture and environment that will allow you to clearly identify and eliminate waste. A sound LES (Lean Execution System), such as Leading2Lean, makes identifying and eliminating waste part of your daily activities. Your LES should make that data immediately available. Data is knowledge and knowledge is power. Your data should be transparent and visible, available to anyone in your organization in real-time. And if your LES is L2L, that data is delivered directly to you, as often as you say. 

An LES With The Right CI Tools

Ensure your LES can provide you with the tools and resources to drive Continuous Improvement in all strategies of your business.

What Continuous Improvement Tools are further enhanced by a great LES such as L2L?

  • Heijunka - (Level Load Production)
  • Kanban - (Utilize/Escalate Kanban Signal)
  • Takt Time - (Set Independent Line/Cell Customer Demand)
  • A3/Gemba Walks - (Schedule / Audit / Document Go & See Activities)
  • Kaizen - (Full Kaizen Improvement / Process / Procedure / Reporting)
  • Yokoten - (Lessons Learned Database - Document those Lessons, Share Best Practices across your organization)
  • Standardized Work (Standardized Processes Can be Measured, therefore, they can be improved) 
  • Autonomous Problem Solving - Users Drive PDCA (Plan Do Check Act)
  • Data Analysis - (Analyze / Validate Statistical Properties)
  • Stability - (Analyze Production Data: OA, OEE, Quality, Labor)

We have waste in all areas of an organization. One Continuous Improvement Tool does not fit all scenarios or situations in exactly the same way. Using the correct combination of tools for your business can significantly impact results. Utilizing each of these Continuous Improvements Tools together within one LES will add value and begin to poka-yoke (Mistake Proof) many of the processes that are susceptible to error. These tools together enhance the capabilities of each other and close the loop on many commonly missed or failed opportunities. 

Deployment and practical use of these Continuous Improvement Tools will build a lasting structure in your organization with capabilities to much more quickly identify and eliminate waste. These Tools need to be part of all organizational strategies for developing a long term philosophy of waste reduction. If a robust LES is not yet one of your Continuous Improvement Tools, call us today. We're ready for you when you're ready for us! 

“Successful creation of lean processes is derived from a deep understanding of how each tool is utilized to accomplish an end objective.” The Toyota Way FieldBook

If you liked this topic, then you'll be interested in this Continuous Improvement Blog.

If you'd like to explore L2L's continuous improvement tools, check out our Lean Tools page.


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