Many UK manufacturers have pursued ISO9001 or other systems to demonstrate they have best practice processes. However, some find training or new policies can affect change for a period of time, in the long run many of these new behaviours fall by the way side as employees return to their previous status quo.
That’s where a methodology like Six Sigma can help. Six Sigma is an established system of tools for helping businesses improve customer satisfaction, service delivery, cost control and process performance. It’s about challenging current practices and offering constructive alternatives by eliminating variation to create consistency.
In particular, Six Sigma’s DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) tool – specifically the Control aspect – helps businesses not only establish new ways of working, but sustain the results for the long term.
Here are a few ways businesses can use Six Sigma’s Control principles to prevent the root causes of improvement ‘slip’ over time:
1. Absent or ineffective measurement
The key to continuous improvement is measurement. The development, documentation and implementation of an ongoing monitoring plan is crucial to prevent reverting back to ‘the old way.’ After all, how can you know if improvement has occurred unless you have a benchmark? And how can employees have a target to shoot for without a measurable goal? Included in measurement is having all changes documented on paper, with policies, how-to guides and responsibility matrices. There should be project champions responsible for ensuring results are achieved (or document what went wrong if they aren’t) and communicated to the broader business. Managers should be encouraged to make it clear to their reports that processes are not optional, this is the norm of day to day business and there will be consequences for non-compliance.
2. Not having the skills for the job
Nearly any business growth or continuous improvement programme must include some element of training with ongoing coaching to reinforce new skills. Skills gaps can quite often be highlighted during the DMAIC cycle. This could be for a particular team, manager or the entire workforce depending on the scope and complexity of the changes. Training could be in an improvement system such as Lean or Six Sigma, technical skills, management and leadership or even health and safety.
3. Not seeing the impact of the change
Sometimes shop floor employees don’t get a chance to see how changes to their work positively impacts the business’ performance and improves the customer journey. It is the job of managers and business communications to ‘sell’ the benefits of the changes and appropriately inform, praise and reward the workforce when these changes yield results. This can be illustrated via progress changes against relevant key performance indicators visualised. Regular briefing through internal communication channels pays dividends; not just broadcasting.
By ‘institutionalising’ the improvements through the modification of systems and structures staffing, training, incentives and changes become tangible.
4. No sense of involvement
No matter their position in an organisation, employees want to feel a sense that they’re contributing to the direction of the company. Rather than dimply dictating, companies should encourage feedback from the workers that will be implementing process changes and demonstrate that their concerns are taken seriously and addressed. Collaboration and cross functional involvement is the goal rather than short term compliance. (And employees who actually do the work day to day often have great ideas for innovation, ways to make processes less complicated or opportunities for productivity improvements.)
Whether you have a business growth target you’re struggling to meet or looking for a third-party perspective on how to increase productivity, a Six Sigma approach could help your business. Our business consultants all have a firm background in UK manufacturing and understand the particular challenges of the industry. Schedule a visit with one of them to see how they could help your team.
Want to explore Six Sigma programmes? Here are our recommended courses:
Six Sigma black belt
Six Sigma green belt
Six Sigma white belt