Structured Routines for Operational Excellence and Daily Continuous Improvement

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

In recent articles, I have written extensively about the need for manufacturers to invest more heavily in technology, innovation, automation, and workforce development to counter the issues they continue to face due to the pandemic. Even when manufacturers find the raw materials they need for their operations, and they invest in their equipment and people, and successfully perform all the other daily “blocking and tackling” of manufacturing operations management.  Many companies still find themselves stuck in neutral and searching for answers to move the proverbial needle. How do these types of manufacturers find growth in productivity and sales? How do they sustain their continuous improvement efforts? Today I will share an incredibly impactful approach to operational excellence and daily continuous improvement that progressive manufacturers are using to reach that next level of performance.

When problems are visible, manufacturers can utilize well-established lean tools and techniques to solve them. However, when the issues are less visible and their root causes are not as obvious, a systematic, scientific way of thinking and acting is required to solve them and sustain the improvements. For this, we need managers as the teachers of that system. Scientific thinking is a basis for successfully pursuing seemingly unattainable goals in complex systems. This type of thinking also enables teams to make decisions close to the action and maneuver effectively and efficiently. Scientific thinking is a routine of intentional coordination between what we think will happen (theory), what actually happens (evidence), and adjusting based on what we learn from the difference.

Katas are structured routines that are practiced deliberately so that their patterns become second nature and leave the practitioners with new abilities that are meant to be built upon. The word “Kata” has roots in martial arts, where they are used to train participants in fundamental moves, but the idea of a Kata can be applied in manufacturing operations. Katas are for learning fundamental skills that you can build on.  They are a way of transferring skills and developing shared abilities and mindset in a team or organization. Combining a scientific pattern with structured practice routines contributes to the development of effective problem solvers.  Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata make scientific thinking a skill that anyone can learn by combining a four-step scientific pattern along with simple, structured routines for practicing the pattern.

How does it work in actuality? The four-step scientific pattern is as follows: 1- Set the direction or challenge for the organization. 2- Grasp the current conditions. 3- Establish your next target condition that represents a step toward the direction or challenge. 4- Conduct experiments to achieve that next target condition. And what do you do once you successfully reach that next target condition?  Establish another incremental target condition that represents yet another step toward the direction or challenge. Once this routine is practiced enough, it becomes second nature. When employees at all levels of an organization are performing in this systemic manner, it quickly transforms into a high-performance culture able to tackle any obstacle it encounters.  Some of you reading this might be thinking that this type of an approach is probably best suited for larger manufacturers, but Kata can be practiced in organizations of any size. In reality, some of the most impactful results actually come from small to mid-sized manufacturers.

As mentioned previously, when the issues are less visible, we need a systematic, scientific way of thinking and acting to solve problems and sustain the improvements. Kata is an incredibly powerful approach to daily continuous improvement. TDO’s team is fully certified to help manufacturers learn and implement these skills and develop the necessary coaches to sustain the habits. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.