Those of us advocating the need for continually improving operations believe it is better to do something “pretty well” than to do nothing “perfectly.” What I mean by this is that we often struggle trying to find the best place to begin an improvement effort, yet if we would just start somewhere, we could see results sooner. We might even find that these results are just as impressive as those we might have achieved if we could ever find that “best” place to start.
Whether it’s finding the best area to organize; the best process to streamline; the best machine for improving the setup process; or the best workcenter to introduce preventive maintenance techniques, over-analysis inhibits action. One way to address this problem is to keep the objective of continuous improvement in mind. If we recognize that the key is to keep getting better, then starting an improvement effort anywhere can be beneficial. Eventually, all areas of the organization will be addressed with action taking precedence over inaction.
One area in which many struggle to get started is performance measurement. Everyone knows we need to measure key indicators to see how we are doing, but determining which ones, how often they should be tracked and how much detail is needed can delay the entire performance-measurement process. It probably does not matter what is initially measured as long as something is measured. Just initiating the measure is a great first step to improvement because in reality, what is measured tends to improve. I know a company that has really struggled with getting its performance measurement system in place because it took awhile to gather accurate expense information and allocate it to the right workcenter. My advice was to start with whatever information the company had available, estimate the balance and refine the process later.
Another area often plagued by the “paralysis by analysis” syndrome is equipment acquisition. Now, a certain amount of planning and investigation is necessary before capital equipment can be purchased, but this often goes to extremes. Some will collect data and analyze machine characteristics repeatedly. Sometimes, by the time a decision is made (or tentatively made), a new machine comes onto the market and second-guessing begins. I am reminded of something I once read regarding the acquisition of new personal computers. With the rate of change of computer technology, it is easy to justify waiting until the next model comes along and ultimately never buying anything. Of course, if we did that, we would still be adding huge columns of numbers with pencil and paper instead of with the movement of a mouse and the click of a button.
We can also find inaction in the process of hiring employees. In some companies, the quest to find the perfect person leads to many highly qualified, capable individuals getting passed over. If a highly capable employee is brought on board, then it is likely that his or her skills can help the business sooner than that long sought after, perfect individual.
With respect to improving processes in your company, which of the following statements is most applicable?
- We spend a lot of time planning things but don’t seem to accomplish a lot.
- We spend a lot of time planning things and do accomplish a lot.
- We spend some time planning, but most time doing.
- What is planning?
If either the first or fourth condition best describes your company’s environment, then things need to change. Search for causes of planning without doing. Perhaps too many people get involved and consensus is hard to achieve. A smaller group may provide more focus and ultimately better plans. If no planning is the norm, start slowly with a simple plan to effect a particular change that is needed in the company. Compare the results with the plan to those you have traditionally achieved without a plan. In general, some plan to bring about a change yields better results than no plan at all.
So plan to improve something somewhere, and you will soon see results instead of forever contemplating them.