Seven Basic Habits for Process Improvement
Dr. Andrew Parris, Process Excellence Manager, Medair, Lonay, CH-VD, Switzerland
Keywords: Nonprofit and NGO, Process Excellence, Habits
Many years ago, Kaoru Ishikawa and other experienced TQM thinkers and practitioners identified seven basic quality tools for process improvement. ASQ lists these as:
• Cause-and-effect diagram (also called Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams)
• Check sheet
• Control chart
• Pareto chart
• Scatter diagram
In my nearly quarter century of applying Lean and Six Sigma in aerospace, NGOs/nonprofits and private sector companies in developing countries, I have found that what most organizations need to get started with process improvement are habits, more than tools. These seven TQM tools are focused on problem solving, which is only one (albeit a foundational one) of seven habits I prioritize for those just getting started with Lean Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement.
Interestingly, these seven most beneficial ways of improving processes come from more from the Lean playbook, than from Six Sigma (which gave us the tools above), though there is some overlap.
The seven basic habits are relevant for every organization – whether private (manufacturing, agriculture and services), public or nonprofit sector – but especially those that have low levels of process maturity. Another benefit of these basic habits is that they are also easy to learn and fruitfully apply by employees with lower levels of education.
The seven basic habits are:
1. Identify value: understand what is valuable to your customers, both internal and external; then eliminate the non-required waste that hinders value creation
2. Prevent mistakes: find creative, simple, low-cost ways to prevent mistakes from happening or to detect them as quickly as possible
3. Organize the area: apply 5S; for starters, to throw out what you don’t need, move closer what you use more often, make a place for everything, and make things shine
4. Standardize work: determine what should be done and by whom; map the process and create SOPs to document the best-known way of working; use checklists and forms to guide
5. Make work visual: label what things are and outline where things belong, so that work, flow, and problems visible
6. Make work flow: identify and eliminate causes of delay, cut excessive hand-offs and approvals and reducing batching as much as possible; level work and respond to customer pull
7. Solve problems: follow PDCA, Toyota Kata, DMAIC and/or A3 thinking to define and solve problems at the root cause, rather than blaming people; use the 7 TQM tools as needed in your analysis
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Process Excellence is achieved through the habit of Continuous (Process) Improvement – through many small changes to how work is done that are made by the people doing the work. Lean is known for their approach to building (the capacity of) people who build cars. Like Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, these seven basic habits of process improvement make those who practice these habits highly effective in their pursuit of Process Excellence, which in turn provides organizations with strategic, competitive operational advantage.
In addition to these habits, of course, the standard set of success enablers to a successful Continuous Improvement initiative must also be established. These are:
• Sustained leadership commitment and active engagement
• Learning, teaching and coaching – building capacity to improve
• Application of Lean thinking and tools to processes
• Opportunity and expectation to practice (and to fail)
• Documentation and sharing of improvements and learning
• Goals and recognition for improvement to motivate change
• Becoming better at becoming better – pursuit of Process Excellence
By promoting and practicing the seven basic habits of process improvement, organizations that are beginning their Lean Six Sigma journey can quickly generate significant improvements. This can be sustained by the standard enablers noted above. Over time, practitioners can go deeper into these habits and the related tools, as well as learn and apply more sophisticated habits and tools to their maturing processes in pursuit of Process Excellence.