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The Case for Continuous Improvement

Over the years while I was working for other companies, I would sit down in the evening and take notes about what I learned during the day. Eventually, I compiled it into something of a personal guide I could reference. That guide subsequently formed the foundation for my lean dictionary.

When I launched my business, I was looking for a unique way to have my voice stand out from the countless people sharing their Lean lessons online. It was great to have hundreds of pages of ideas ready to go. Those ideas turned into Lean terms, and now my reference guide is the gateway through which the majority of my visitors end up finding out about my site.

So one of the keys to my site’s success has been taking a daily approach to my personal continuous improvement. I actively tried to document what I learned. The simple act of having that consistent, deliberate approach to Lean added up over time for me.

And that consistent, daily, small approach to improvement works for companies as well. In fact, I saw a very interesting stat in a book by Raymond Floyd yesterday. In A Culture of Rapid Improvement, Floyd talks about improvement idea generation and implementation.

He references a stat that says the average American company gets seven improvement suggestions per 100 people during the course of a year. He says the average implementation rate is 20%, yielding 0.014 improvements per person, per year.

And he compares that rate to a few other companies, notably Toyota, which is renowned for its engaged workforce. He mentions benchmarking data which estimates Toyota implements 40 improvements per employee, per year. That is not just ten or even hundreds of times more improvements per person. It is thousands. Let me say that again. Thousands.

This image below shows the relative difference in size between these two piles of ideas. You may have to look hard to see the small red square.

Is Toyota thousands of times better than the average company in the US? Not at all. What it says is that it takes a monumental amount of effort from the entire organization to rise above average. It takes a daily commitment from the entire organization. It takes a culture that promotes taking chances on ideas.

So here’s a bit of homework for you. I want you to get a notebook (or start a computer file), and write the date on the first page. And then write down a lesson you learned today. If you have more than one, by all means write the extras down. But the purpose of this is not to spend a lot of time documenting. It is to spend a few minutes a day giving you something to look back on that will help you get better faster.

And feel free to send me your lessons learned at info@velaction.com. If there is a lot of interest in this topic, I will turn the lessons you all learned into a regular feature so you can start to help each other get better at Lean.

So what do you think? Are you up to the challenge of creating a daily ritual to make yourself better at continuous improvement?


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