The Improvement Guide
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The Improvement Guide

A Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance

Gerald J. Langley, Ronald D. Moen, Kevin M. Nolan, Thomas W. Nolan, Clifford L. Norman, Lloyd P. Provost

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eBook - ePub

The Improvement Guide

A Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance

Gerald J. Langley, Ronald D. Moen, Kevin M. Nolan, Thomas W. Nolan, Clifford L. Norman, Lloyd P. Provost

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About This Book

This new edition of this bestselling guide offers an integrated approach to process improvement that delivers quick and substantial results in quality and productivity in diverse settings. The authors explore their Model for Improvement that worked with international improvement efforts at multinational companies as well as in different industries such as healthcare and public agencies. This edition includes new information that shows how to accelerate improvement by spreading changes across multiple sites. The book presents a practical tool kit of ideas, examples, and applications.

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Part One
Introduction to Improvement

The chapters in this part of the book present a foundation for improvement by introducing the basic concepts of improvement along with a framework for all improvement efforts called the Model for Improvement (Chapter One) and some of the basic skills needed to become efficient and effective at improvement (Chapter Two). Examples of improvement efforts are in Chapter Three.
The reader need not have any prior experience with formal improvement methods to be able to read and understand this part of the book. Those readers who have some experience with improvement methods should find Part One to be a good review and will appreciate the simplicity and flexibility of the concepts and the framework.

Chapter One
Changes That Result in Improvement

Most people at one time or another have thought about trying to do something better. It might be at home or at work, in recreation or business, for friends or customers. Thinking about doing something better is often easy; actually making a change usually is not. What is the best way to approach trying to make a change that results in improvement?

Principles of Improvement

Fundamental to the success of any improvement effort is the understanding that improvement requires that change occur. Unfortunately, not all changes result in improvement. It is this focus on change and an understanding of basic principles of improvement that leads to efficient and effective improvement efforts. In this chapter, we explore these two basic areas:
  • What is a change? More specifically, what is a change that will result in improvement?
  • What are the fundamental principles of improvement?
What is a change that results in improvement? Is fixing a burnt-out light bulb a change? Is fixing a flat tire a change? Yes, of course these are changes, but they are not the type of change that leads to improvement beyond what has been seen before. These types of changes simply reset things back to where they were. A broader definition of a change that results in improvement is needed. Think of a situation you have experienced recently where improvement occurred. Were you able to recognize the change that led to the improvement? Could you describe it? Could you “see” what was different? How did you know the change resulted in improvement?
What is meant by the term improvement? Improvement has meaning only in terms of observation based on given criteria. In other words, improvement is a useful concept when it is defined by characteristics such as faster, easier, more efficient, more effective, less expensive, safer, cleaner, and so on. Sometimes it is enough to observe the impact of a change on these characteristics, but usually it is best to document the impact (collect data).
Because the concepts of improvement and change are tied together so strongly, it is more useful to define them together. Fundamental changes that result in improvement:
  • Alter how work or activity is done or the makeup of a product
  • Produce visible, positive differences in results relative to historical norms
  • Have a lasting impact
An example of an improvement effort helps explore these concepts and the fundamental principles for successful improvement.
CanDew Cleaning Services, a company devoted to cleaning homes and small businesses, was started by two sisters six years ago. In that time, the company has grown from the two of them cleaning eight to twelve houses per week to an organization with four “crews” of workers cleaning approximately sixty houses and fifteen small business offices per week. Six months ago, just after bringing on their third and fourth crews, the sisters began to hear complaints from customers. In addition, two of their long-term customers stopped using their service. When they looked into the complaints, they found a number of problems, but poor cleaning of restrooms seemed to be a repeating issue.
The first two central principles of improvement are (1) knowing why you need to improve and (2) having a way to get feedback to let you know if improvement is happening. The first is sometimes referred to as the aim or purpose of the improvement effort. The improvement aim of CanDew Cleaning Services was clear; they first needed to make changes to how their crews were cleaning the restrooms to deal with customer complaints. Unfortunately, their only feedback loop was from customer complaints. Waiting to hear about quality problems from your customers will typically cost you customers.
The sisters turned their attention to developing specific changes that would address customer issues and produce better results. They knew, from customer complaints, there were problems with the cleaning of restrooms. However, they did not have enough information to know the origin of the perceived problems. The sisters decided to select one cleaning job from each of the four crews to inspect and photograph the restrooms. What they saw surprised them. Despite the initial training they had given to all of the crews, the cleaning of restrooms varied from crew to crew in significant ways (variation in order of steps or tasks, different supplies, level of completeness, and so on). The photographs allowed them to “see” the resulting differences in outcomes.
The sisters realized that their knowledge of the apparent quality problems was based solely on customer complaints. They needed a better way to see the quality their services were delivering. By picking a small sample of restrooms to observe, they were able to add to their knowledge about the quality problems. They saw specific areas where changes were needed.
Now that they had some feedback, the sisters were faced with the critical question: What changes could they make that would result in improvement? Of course, they had some ideas, such as getting all the crews to use the same, effective cleaning process and to use the same cleaning supplies. However, because they did not know why that was not already happening, they chose to have a meeting on the following Friday, at the end of the work day, with the four crews to discuss ideas for changes. More surprises were in store for them at the meeting. They found out that their original training of the crews had left many of the workers unclear about the work—for example, which cleaning materials to use on which surfaces or the order of the cleaning steps. They found that one crew had purchased some cheaper cleaning supplies to save money.
One crew member asked for a checklist for the cleaning steps, with all the steps in the “standard” order. This struck the sisters as a specific idea that they could develop and test very quickly. After the meeting, the sisters drafted a list of specific steps for cleaning a restroom, on the basis of their experience and knowledge.
The third central principle of improvement is (3) developing a change that you think will result in improvement. The sisters used the meeting with the four crews to generate ideas. The ideas for change have to be specific enough so they can be described and planned for.
Having a specific idea for a change is not enough. The change must actually be made and sustained. However, as was said at the beginning of this chapter, not all changes result in improvement. There is a tendency in all of us to jump straight from an idea for change (for improvement) directly to implementation. This is normally not a good approach. In fact, it can be said that for most changes going directly to implementation (that is, making the change permanent) without first testing the change idea in some way usually leads to making things worse.
The fourth central principle of improvement is (4) testing a change before any attempts to impl...

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