You Need A Standard
I spend a lot of time talking to people about lean and ISO (International Standards Organisation) systems, especially ISO9001. People sometimes think that it's a strange mix of things but when you peel back the surface of ISO9001 what you have is a standard build around 2 things, understanding risk and the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) or if you are like me you'll say adjust rather than act but that's a whole other blog.
To me they complement each other incredibly well, both are built on the principle of continuous improvement, that you have to keep getting better and better and if you think about it really, they are both about removing waste in your processes and systems. ISO for instance has put in a great amount of effort to align the format of all of their new standards into following the same higher level structure, all the clauses are named the same and in the same order. That means you don't' have to duplicate work if you are looking to achieve ISO9001 and say ISO14001 as an example, because, that would be wasteful.
To be successful in either there are a number of things that you need, for a start you need top leadership commitment that this is, in fact, they way they want to operate the organisation since it's not something you can do half heartedly, if you do try and do it like that then it's quicker and less painful to just take a whole bunch of cash and set it on fire…
Another thing you need to do is to understand the principles behind them, I'm not talking about the assorted tools, although these are important, I'm talking about understanding the underlaying thinking process and methodologies that are there. Again, here they are both about similar things, one of which is people.
In lean you are 100% focused on growing and developing people into better problem solvers, better thinkers so that they can think their way through how to remove the waste in your organisation as well as developing a thirst for knowledge. In ISO guess what, you want people to think, to challenge what you do and come up with better methods
Pick as Standard
ISO , is about standards (the clue is in the name!) and people tend to talk about it as a single standard say ISO 9001 for Quality Management Systems which it is, but, what success looks like in here is actually you as an organisation setting the standard way of working, the standard method, the standard suppliers, the standard formats they are looking for you to find ways to be consistent. When it comes to lean, guess what, you need standards here as well. You have all sorts of standards, you have your quality standard – so this is what a good one looks / feels like, they have standard work at all levels which is about routine, you do X, Y & Z in that order on those days and so on.
The reason that you need standard is simple, if you really want to improve you need to start somewhere!
How Big was the Improvement?
When people tell me they have improved my 1st question after saying well done is… how much? My second question is then, how the improvement helped the performance of your organisation, (again applicable to both lean and ISO) This is normally where the challenge comes, so lets break it down a little. You have come up with an improvement, great, well done, why is it an improvement? What have you improved, is it the method, the technique, the material, the document to make it simpler, have you removed something to make things flow better?
Guess what happens 80% of the time, normally a bit of a look, some rambling and then the immortal words.. I'll get back to you on that, or some variation.
A lot of the time there isn't a standard, yes there are ways they do things and rough norms but there is no documented standard, there is no real times or costs against it. If you didn't have a standard to start with then how do you know you improved? You can't, without a standard to start with you cannot possible improve.
The Point of the Standard
In both cases the whole point of having a standard is, as we said, to create the baseline or the benchmark. The reference point from which you will measure everything you do. From here you can run experimental changes to understand if your 'improvement' is actually an improvement or if it's just another way of delivering exactly the same outcome in the same time, in a better time or even a worse time! (it happens!!)
By understanding where you are at the start you can quickly figure out where you have moved to, you can work through your PDCA loop or your Toyota Kata process to test out your new improved process. You have the actual data to demonstrate what you did added value, or not and so reverse it.
Not having a standard is like trying to drive to a final destination, although you aren't sure where it really is, and starting from somewhere that could Christchurch but equally Queenstown would be Ok as well, irrespective ot he fact they area fair few hundred kilometers apart!
The standard can show you that it's a 1% or a 10% improvement which may mean that it pays for itself or it wont and you shouldn't do it. Having a standard means that you have a history of where you have been so that if you do have to back track you can!
You Improved, What Now?
So now you have actually got a standard and you have improved on this what now, well that's simple. You now have a new standard, the bar has been raised, now just go out and improve on that standard as well. That is continuous improvement, going from 1 standard to a new standard to another new standard, each time raising the bar is the very definition of continuous improvement. Changing things without a standard that's not continuous improvement just called insanity.
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