Friday, May 14, 2004

Just how DO we improve?

"Both - And" not "Either - Or"


My friend Frank Patrick, one of the most erudite guys I know, posted a very useful blog entry yesterday on continuous improvement strategies.  In it, Frank compares moving a pile of material with either a shovel or a wheelbarrow.  Do we use the leverage of a wheelbarrow or the rapidity and simplicity of a shovel?


I can't do Frank's excellent writing skills justice, so click over there and read it yourself. 


What Frank captures with this fine word picture is an apparent tension over how to make things better.  I struggled with this for a long time until I spent a very seminal week at Wiremold's Brooks Electronics Division in August, 2002.  Immersing myself in their application of Lean, I saw something very telling. 


They used shovels AND wheelbarrows.


In many cases, an individual associate can make a local improvement.  She can move a machine, re-do a spreadsheet, relabel a shelf.  Quick.  Easy.  And builds the culture of improvement. 




The company can decide to take on a major step and organize in weeks to months to overhaul a process or an area. 


Both can happen at the same time in the same place in the same plant even with the same people. 


So, use leverage...grab the shovel...make something happen. 


I hope this is helpful.