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Computers and Continuous Improvement

Not that many years ago, people could choose not to use computers. In fact, many people did not have access to a computer at home or at work.

According to a Research and Markets report, as of January of 2009, 80% of US households have a computer. Many of the last 20% likely have access to a computer some other way—through work or via a friend or relative.

What this means is that computers are no longer optional. To succeed both in and out of work, you will have to understand how to use a computer.

Continuous improvement efforts have become more and more computer centric. Flowcharts are routinely done on graphics or spreadsheet programs, data is recorded, and then sliced and diced, and check sheets are increasingly kept in network locations. In short, computers are rapidly becoming essential for continuous improvement efforts.

If you want to be successful at continuous improvement, you will have to refine your computer skills. You have to be able to quickly find information on the internet, communicate with teammates, analyze information, and document your new process.

Continuous improvements efforts, especially in the office, are changing in three main ways. First, data is becoming increasingly available. That means more opportunities for slicing-and-dicing. Some high end software packages are out of reach for most teams, but most people only scratch the surface of what programs like Excel can do. For examples, few people know how to use pivot tables to find the pearls contained in spreadsheets, and many don’t even have some of the analysis add-ins installed.

Second, as graphics packages get better and better, corporate documents get more and more polished. Many companies even use video clips for a variety of training and customer contact purposes. Kaizen teams have an increasingly difficult time replicating the same level of appearance. Even if the improved process is better than the old way, it can be an uphill fight to convince people of that when the new documentation doesn’t look as refined as the old.

Finally, communication has changed. Computers have attached themselves to us everywhere through our mobile phones. While this is helpful, there are two obstacles to continuous improvement. One is the distraction factor. It is hard to escape the buzz of the smartphone. The other is information overload. Keeping on top of all this communication takes a lot of effort. And since more people in companies have email than ever before, it means more communication to respond to.

What all this means is that computer skills are more critical than ever to continuous improvement. For team members on a project, it is important. But any leader who wants a successful career in a Lean company will likely have to become well-versed in a variety of office applications—a word processor, a spreadsheet, and an e-mail/calendar program as a minimum. Continuous improvement efforts also frequently benefit from someone who is good at photo and video editing, as well as a basic graphics program. The better you are at them, the easier your job tends to be.

Sign up for a computer course, or buy a book about a program that you might have to use. I’m constantly finding little computer tips along the way that help me with continuous improvement.


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