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Monday, August 5, 2013

Continuous Improvement

Manufacturers are constantly adding certifications, ISO 9001, Quality System, ISO 14001
Environmental Management System, OHSAS 18001 Safety Management System, CAPA, Certified
Auto Parts Association, ISO 16949, Automotive Quality Certification, AS 9120 and Aerospace quality
certification just to name a few. Each of these certifications addresses different aspects, yet they all
share the same common emphasis, Continuous Improvement.

Continuous Improvement is the central theme in manufacturing. ISO, Lean, 6 Sigma and so on,
all focusing on organization’s efforts on continuous improvement. Since the Asian manufacturing explosion in the 1950′s, continuous improvement has become the cornerstone of manufacturing.
Manufacturers monitor and measure everything, allowing them to discover any unanticipated results. Everyone rushes to determine the reason for the unexpected results or root cause then determines how to fix it then change policies and procedures to ensure it doesn't happen again. The quality systems provide a framework for the improvement process and the discipline to ensure improvements are maintained. This system works. Everyone is focused on improvement. Current performance is only acceptable for an instance than expectations are raised, getting better without end.

My question is, “Why don’t other industries embrace continuous improvement like manufacturing?”
Manufacturing is one of the oldest trades. So maybe, manufacturing has been around longer and is more developed?

In retail and service industries the focus is customer satisfaction. That’s great, but it focuses more on isolated circumstances and not patterns of events. I see management at retailers dealing with upset customers, one on one to satisfy them. What I don’t see is the effort to analyze what happened in the system. I don’t see the effort to find a way to fix the root cause so it doesn't happen again. I don’t see the focused discipline to maintain the changes. What I don’t see is a system with a standard. Do you have a favorite store that always seems to have long lines at a certain time of day? Does it happen over and over? Where is the continuous improvement? Where is the root cause analysis and corrective action to see it doesn't happen again? I’m not picking on retail. It’s the same story in service organizations and other industries.

Continuous Improvement should be for every industry, and maybe even for every person. I’m sure
my wife could write-up several non-conforming behavior forms on me, know the root cause and offer corrective actions for the future. Can you imagine your spouse walking around with a stack of corrective actions for you to address? Okay maybe not that far, but as individuals we should be focused on continuous improvement such as education, knowledge, being a better parent, friend or
spouse. Everyone should want to improve.

So when you hear people talking about manufacturing like the stereotypical sweat shop assembly line, think about it. Manufacturing is one of the most developed and constantly improving industries in the world. It must be. Manufacturing has been part of the global economy long before other industries knew the global economy existed. I know retailers have competition. Stand in any retailer’s parking lot and I bet you can see their competitor across the street. Manufacturing faces world-wide competition. Not local or national, but global compaction. Manufacturers face competition from countries with lower labor costs and government assistance in key industries. Without continuous improvement individual manufacturers would not exist.

I have no doubt that manufacturing has one of the most developed business models of any industry. My only question is “When is everyone else going to catch up?” Excuse me now, I need to get to the store where I’m sure they will only have one register opened for the long line of customers, or I need to call the technical help line and sit on hold for 45 minutes…just like yesterday and the day before that.

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