Tips For Executing Your Improvement Plans
You have gone through the effort of identifying opportunities for improving your plant’s operation. You have given thought to how long it will take and who is in the best position to make things happen.
Executive Director, Center for Manufacturing Systems, New Jersey Institute of Technology
You have gone through the effort of identifying opportunities for improving your plant’s operation. You have given thought to how long it will take and who is in the best position to make things happen. You have energized the staff through training and open communication and you think everything will work out, yet nothing happens. Your staff eventually gets lost in the daily ritual of putting out fires and trying to run a chaotic business, and all of the good ideas become distant memories.
Why does this happen? More often than not, it is because you did not have an implementation plan that was understood by those responsible for getting it done. If you have encountered this problem in your company, consider the following steps for developing and managing an effective implementation plan.
- Identify the action items to be addressed. Be sure they are written in a clear and concise manner and that everyone involved really understands them. Whenever possible, make these action items “achievement oriented.” Typical action items might include “reduce change-over time by 50 pecent on the CNC lathe,” “eliminate all unneeded items from the assembly area” or “develop a pull scheduling signal for the paint shop.” Avoid “activity oriented” action items such as “investigate the possibility of instituting a preventive maintenance program on the vertical machining center” or “evaluate running the machine at faster speeds and feeds.” If it turns out one of your achievement-oriented action items does not materialize, so be it. At least there was a clear vision of what was expected, and perhaps it can be revisited later.
- Determine the person best suited to assume responsibility for the action item. This is not necessarily the person who has to do all of the work; rather, it is just the person who assumes responsibility for getting the work done. Obviously, the person will need access to resources to be successful, and this must go into the decision of selecting the right person.
- Before you assign target completion dates for the action items, determine priorities. This will help in setting the target dates. Use any prioritization system you feel comfortable with, but be careful not to establish too many priority levels. At this point, a simple A-B-C prioritization identification may be sufficient. This forces everyone to examine which are the most important items and which can be put off for a while.
- Determine target completion dates for each action item. Resource availability will generally dictate these dates, which should be reasonable (don’t forget you also have to keep the business running) and have the buy-in of everyone involved. It may be necessary to establish multiple phased dates for certain action items. For example, you may choose to list a date for an initial step in the process along with a completion date.
- Document the implementation plan and post it somewhere in the company. The plan can be recorded on anything from a handwritten flip chart to a more formal computer-generated document. Posting the plan establishes a communication board for everyone to see.
- Determine the frequency and type of follow-up meetings for the sole purpose of discussing progress with the implementation plan. In terms of frequency, more frequent is better than less frequent, especially early in the life of the plan. If follow-up meetings are planned too far apart, time may be lost upfront, leading to delays down stream. Intervals of 1, 2 or 4 weeks are probably the most common frequency for these meetings. When it comes to meetings types, avoid long, drawn-out meetings that accomplish little and waste valuable time. Identify what should be discussed by the team and what should be taken off-line for discussion by a limited few. Many like the “15-minute stand-up meeting” format that can be held anywhere. (For maximum effect, try scheduling such meetings at a quarter to an hour—maybe just before the lunch hour.)
- Keep the implementation plan alive. This means doing what you say you are going to do, especially in terms of follow-up. Recognizing that there may be times when people are not available for meetings, they should send representatives who are authorized to speak on their behalf. Maintaining momentum and enthusiasm may also require being flexible with dates. When target dates are not met, or are in danger of not being met, immediately establish new target dates and keep moving forward.
With all of the things we have to do in our busy lives, if we don’t establish a plan to implement our ideas for improving the business, it is unlikely we will get where we need to be. Don’t let your employees join the multitudes who have asked “whatever happened to . . . ?”