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Continuous Improvement Development Guide

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Continuous Improvement Development Guide (TM)

VOLUME V: Ramping Up

Basic Volume Information

Once a solid foundation is laid, the organization can really start to accelerate its progress. Not only will teams get better at the things they are already doing, the structure they built will make it easier to continue to add increasingly sophisticated tools.

Another characteristic of this phase is that it emphasizes greater involvement by all employees. In the earlier phases, much of the effort is focused on the leadership team. There is also a challenge in that a great deal the work is in developing new systems and operating in pilot areas. As a result, there are fewer opportunities to get the entire team involved in more than training. Of course, you will likely have seen a fair number of team members trying to put their new knowledge to use in daily improvement, but with a lack of experienced mentors, their involvement in continuous improvement was far from immersive.

That changes in the ramping up phase. Even though there is still a lot left to learn, the pace of improvement should increase significantly in phase 3.  There is a growing list of things to do. There is a growing number of areas that will be participating in the continuous improvement effort. They will be more leaders taking on the challenges that come from both policy deployment goals and daily management.

Most importantly, though, team members will learn to be dissatisfied with wasteful, poor processes. As a result, your company should see a subtle shift during this phase from leaders dictating what to do to team members pointing out problems, and either asking for help or taking the initiative to address the issues on their own.

This is the phase where a continuous improvement culture begins to take root. Up until now, the focus has been on learning and to some degree, convincing. In the earlier phases, the leadership team likely did a lot of “selling” of the new program. By this time, most people in the organization should have seen firsthand the benefits that Lean offers to both the company and the employees. And when people start to recognize the effectiveness of what the leadership team is trying to accomplish, they will be much more likely to commit to the business management system and become a fully engaged workforce.


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Detailed Volume Information


The purpose of the ramping up phase is to spread continuous improvement efforts throughout the company. There will still be new concepts introduced, but that is secondary to getting the entire workforce involved in the business management system. The key is repetition and consistency.


Phase 3 starts once the organization is doing operations reviews on a regular basis. There may be some overlap as you complete the phase 2 training and start to implement some of the early sections of phase 3. The important thing though, is not to dive into phase 3 development gates until you’re successfully reviewing your operations on a monthly basis.

The transition from phase 3 to phase 4, Keeping Momentum, is even less defined. There is just a subtle shift in the level of complexity between the two phases, and in the basic feel of what you will be rolling out. In phase 3, things will still feel new, and they will still feel like changes. In phase 4, even though the concepts may be unfamiliar, they will feel more comfortable. That’s because most people will have become accustomed to their processes changing while the ramp up was going on. The truth is, continuous improvement and the business management system are also processes. There is little difference, functionally speaking, from the way you would go about changing a production process and a process that supports your continuous improvement efforts.

For that reason, it is somewhat of an arbitrary decision about which topics go at the end of phase 3 and the beginning of phase 4. The main difference is in how the organization approaches and feels about continuous improvement.


2-5 Years

The biggest factor that affects the time it takes to progress through the ramping up phase is leadership. If leaders are focused on building a strong business management system and are committed to overcoming the obstacles that they encounter, the time will be closer to the two-year number. On the other hand, if there is more checking the blocks and going through the motions of change, it will take significantly longer to cross that threshold where continuous improvement becomes a part of the culture.

Key Principles

  • Structure Your Thinking: Most people base the way they think on fight or flight. In the early days of cavemen, people had only those two basic reactions to a problem. How they chose to respond to an event was based primarily on its similarity to something they had seen before. In their situation, it made sense to do this because many situations were a matter of life and death. In the modern world, though, people are seldom strapped for time in the same manner. Yet they often use the same basic mechanics for coming up with a solution. They make quick assessment based on what they had seen before and choose from one of the first responses that come to mind. As your organization evolves on its continuous improvement path, those quick responses are no longer good enough. The bar will have been raised so high that most simple problems will have been eliminated. The problems your organization faces will be more significant and more complicated. Teams will need a structured process to solve them. That will require a substantial understanding of the problem, complete with a clear problem definition and significant data collection. The PDCA cycle, DMAIC, and 8D are all structured ways of thinking. In addition to helping teams come up with better solutions, these processes make it easier to communicate what was done.
  • Focus on Flow: Flow is a central concept in Lean operations. It is basically the premise that work should never sit. With this as a target, several things happen. The first is that lot sizes are reduced. Work doesn’t flow if it has to wait for a production run to be completed. Flow also drives waste reduction. The things that prevent flow all tend to be wasteful and costly. Excessive distances between processes, waiting time, poor parts quality, and the like are all reasons why batching is commonplace. The only way to achieve flow is to relentlessly remove that waste. In addition to the obvious cost benefits, operations that flow move much more quickly. The lead time from when a customer orders a product until they have it in their hands is much shorter in a production process that focuses on flow.
  • Create Standards: Taiichi Ohno, the father of modern Lean is credited with saying something to the effect of “without standards there can be no improvement.” While the translation may not be exact, the gist of it is important. The first problem is that if there is no standard, it is impossible to recognize when an abnormal condition presents itself. The second issue is that if you do recognize that something is wrong, how do you make a change to something that is always changing? Standards provide the foundation so you are not chasing a moving target when making improvements.
  • Know your Customers and What They Value: The work you do only matters if it is something that is valued by the customer. Everything else is secondary. Granted, there are many non-value added tasks that support giving the customer what they want, but it is important to recognize that those activities are secondary to the things that customers are willing to pay for. Some companies often get exceptionally good at doing the wrong thing. The obvious prerequisite to providing value is that you have to know your customers.   
  • Manage Your Value Stream: One of the barriers to both creating flow and providing value is that companies are not organized to do either effectively. They tend to have their management system set up in functional silos. To deliver something to the customer it must cross several managerial boundaries. Each manager has his or her own budget and agenda. Instead, companies should map their value streams so they can better understand how to get products to customers in the best way. They should also organize their management system by value stream so leaders can think globally instead of functionally.
  • Improving Your Job is Your Job: Most people go to work to do their job. When a company becomes focused on continuous improvement, that is no longer enough. The true turning point of a company on its Lean journey is when employees begin to take personal responsibility for making their own work better. Obviously this means that managers need to let go of the feeling that they are the ones that dictate how work is done.


High diminishing to moderate.

The high risk from the foundation building phase slowly diminishes as the company ramps up and the continuous improvement culture becomes ingrained in its DNA. Risk also drops significantly due to employee turnover. One of the challenges a company faces comes from entrenched employees. This is higher in the earlier phases, but by the time a company is this far along in its Lean journey, hold outs for the old way of doing things see the writing on the wall. They recognize that things have changed and will never go back. They have to make a choice. They can either get on board or leave the company. Both of these things reduce the risk that comes from resistance. In addition, over time there is a natural turnover of employees. New hires come into the company knowing that it focuses on continuous improvement and that their jobs will be in a continuous state of flux. They will also not know about the old way of doing things, so not have any of that baggage to deal with.

Core Team

Senior Leaders

Major Activities

  • Follow leader standard work / require it in subordinates.
  • Require future state value stream maps.
  • Lead steering team.

Key Prerequisites

  • Production boards posted

Key Training

  • Steering Team Training


Major Activities

  • Follow leader standard work.
  • Standardize / document all processes.

Key Training

  • Leader Standard Work

Frontline Leaders

Major Activities

  • Create visual workplace.

Key Training

Frontline Teams

Major Activities

  • Operate with daily management.
  • Participate in kaizen (projects and daily improvement).
  • Do operator total productive maintenance.

Key Training

  • Kaizen training as needed
  • Total Productive Maintenance

Frontline Professionals

Major Activities

  • Use Design for Manufacturability in product development.

Key Training

  • Design for Manufacturability


Resource Team

  • Add tools/materials as needed.

Resource Area

  • Grow size of resource team to support project needs.

Knowledge Management

  • Establish improvement database.


Internal Expertise

Major Activities

  • Identify cadre (future LPO).
  • Provide kaizen leadership.
  • Refine CI processes.
  • Manage steering team.
  • Support pilot area development.

External Expertise

Major Activities

  • Create self-reliance.
  • Train cadre (future LPO).
  • Roll out advanced tools.

Support Team

Human Resources

  • Manage “funnel” for continuous improvement expertise.
  • Manage continuous improvement training records.
  • Manage incentive programs for continuous improvement efforts.

Information Technology

  • Increase staffing to handle project load.


  • Increase staffing to handle project load.


  • Increase staffing to handle project load.

Practical Guide Directory

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