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Summit: Continuous Improvement Primer

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 by Slaughter Development

The final session at the Indianapolis Productivity Summit last Monday was an overview of popular approaches for “continuous improvement.”

With terms like Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and Total Cost of Ownership appearing everywhere, it is difficult to know which of these ideas is meaningful or appropriate for a business challenge. Management techniques are sometimes revolutionary and sometimes just temporary fads that have no lasting impact. A primer on these topics, which can be broadly titled Continuous Improvement (CI), is essential for anyone interested in working smarter.

To help organize the field, Slaughter Development presents all CI approaches in one of five categories:

  • Analytical methods, the oldest change management techniques, emphasize a top-down approach of reviewing current work in great detail and suggesting improvements. This includes Scientific Management/Taylorism, Total Cost of Ownership, and Lean Manufacturing.
  • Statistical methods make use of the mathematics of probabilities to deduce larger forces from tests on sample data. This requires tremendous knowledge of complex statistics and teams of experts (sometimes called “black belts”) to review, motivate and implement changes. The most famous statistical method is Six Sigma.
  • Experimental methods mostly arise from the post-war Japanese economy. Unlike analytical and statistical approaches, tools such as Kaizen and the Toyota Production System empowers individual workers to generate ideas and even to stop the factory line to improve quality. Although effective in many environments and often quite inexpensive, these concepts are less useful for large scale changes.
  • Individual methods describe organizational change as an outgrowth of personal change. Employees who are motivated, passionate and humane toward each other form the foundation for larger improvements and stewardship in the company as a whole. For the Indianapolis Productivity Summit, Guest speaker Scott Emmett provided an overview of Servant Leadership, a rapidly growing approach to individual improvement.
  • Hybrid methods combine other approaches to better suit the changing needs of the workplace. Most notably, researches have merged Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing to form Lean Six Sigma. This technique ensures that a process can be brought under statistical control while also emphasizing the reduction of waste. Slaughter Development’s own organizational change philosophy, Methodology Engineering, is an example of a hybrid method.

Thanks to all who attended the summit, including guest speakers Eric Marasco, Amy Stark and Scott Emmett. We look forward to seeing you at future events!

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Process Improvement Failure - Millions of companies have pursued major business process improvement projects. Some new evidence reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, shows that most of these endeavors fail. Read on »
Summit Retrospective - On Monday, March 30, Slaughter Development hosted the Indianapolis Productivity Summit. Each of the four 90 minute session drew more than 30 attendees for an interactive discussion on ways to work smarter.
Read on »
A Summit is Coming - On Monday, March 30, Slaughter Development hosts the Indianapolis Productivity Summit, a full day of courses on working smarter. Read on »
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