Is there a secret to sustaining improvements?

David M. Williams, PhD, Improvement Advisor, TrueSimple

I don’t know if there’s a secret, but one thing that we have been talking a lot about is that there’s improvement, and there’s control. If you think of the Juran trilogy, for example, there’s this idea of planning for improvement, and then you work on an improvement process and watch your data go up or down — whichever the direction of goodness is — and, once it’s there, there’s an element of trying to keep an eye on it and make sure that it stays in control, and you have the system change around the process, and, so, performance drops.

One of the things we’ve been thinking about a lot is this idea of it’s not as much of “on/off” as it is more like a “soft–hard” improvement. Sometimes you’re really working hard on an improvement because you’re trying to get it to a level of performance. Now you may dial back a little bit because you’re in that control phase, but you still need to be paying attention and thinking about it, and, at some point, you may notice that there’s an opportunity for you to do a little bit of improvement. It doesn’t have to be a full on initiative, but the system or something may have changed slightly [in a way] that requires you to do some small improvements that’ll enable it to stay at the level that you’ve gotten it to.

I think that’s a key piece, is that often we think about it as an “on/off” or “hot/cold” versus saying, “Sometimes we’re doing a lot of heavy effort because we want to get it to a level of performance that’s good, and, then, at that point, we need to have some continuous touch points to make sure we keep it there, and we improve as needed — but it may be more at a control level than it is at the improvement side.”