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The 10 Commandments Of Continuous Improvement

1. Open your mind to change.

Growth requires change, and change involves conflict. Oftentimes, people fear change because of conflict, but usually you cannot grow without conflict. Conflict is not bad. It is the way we deal with conflict that matters.

If you do not think you can grow, you will not, as Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Henry Ford stamp

What got you here will not get you there. Just because it made sense before does not mean it makes sense now. Shoot "sacred cows".

2. Think “yes we can if ...”

One of our fifteen operating principles is, "We can do anything. We can't do everything." Sometimes strategies are mutually exclusive, so we must be aware of the variables and consequences of each decision we make. We can decrease scrap by paying for a higher-quality supplier, and we can decrease lead time by carrying more inventory. Both decisions have consequences that may not align with our current goals. We can do it if we make a conscious decision, and the consequences are clear and acceptable.

3. Always attack processes, not people.

Wasco core value four

Wasco Operating Principle #8: "We bulldoze problems, not people." Most times, the process is the villain, not the person. There may be a step missing in the process. It is a leader’s job to make it easy to do the right thing.

If we do not clearly communicate our expectations and create well-documented processes, we tend to blame people. A culture of blame decreases morale and makes people defensive, which means it will be more difficult to identify the root cause. Band-aid solutions are quick and easy, just like blaming people, but they fail to address the bigger issue.

4. Seek simple solutions.

Linked to commandment 3, we need to seek the simplest solution to solve the errant process. However, most people are susceptible to complexity bias. Complexity bias causes you to favor complex solutions over straightforward solutions. Complex solutions may seem more complete, but that is usually an illusion. Choose the simple solution.

long road

Determine when it is necessary to go the "extra mile". One of our technicians was getting blisters from installing O-rings on threaded parts, so a tool was designed and machined from stainless steel bar stock to prevent friction when installing it. The tool was lost, and a new tool was requested. Instead of machining a new tool, I discovered a Sharpie pen cap was the perfect size and shape to replace the tool and prevent friction from installing the O-ring. Sure, it would have been nice and fancy to go the extra mile, but it was not necessary.

Find the minimal number of steps for your solutions. When writing work instructions, we tend to overcomplicate the number of steps required. For instance, one time I read in an instruction manual, “Close the navigation window by placing your hand on your mouse and hovering your cursor over the red "X" button in the upper left corner and left click on your mouse once.” This was accompanied with a step-by-step video on how to close the navigation window. Define overkill and avoid it.

5. If it is broken, stop and fix it.

Cultivate an environment and culture where no one says, "That's not my job" (Wasco Operating Principle #5). If you know how to fix it, you should be given the authority to fix it. You do not need to ask permission and fill out a training record to unclog the toilet.

If a team member comes to you with a problem, ask what their solution to the problem is. Usually, they have one. Try it out, and make sure to follow up so that the root cause of the problem is fixed.

Implement Kaizen and 5S to fix what bugs you. As the story goes, there once was a man who had difficulty opening his desk drawer, it took him a couple seconds every day to jiggle it open. One day, he had a visitor in his office who noticed the trouble the man was having opening his drawer. The visitor asked him, "How long has your drawer been like that?" The man replied, "Since I moved offices, so five years, but it is not a big deal because it only takes me a few seconds to open it." The visitor did some math in his head and realized the man had cumulatively spent hours jiggling his drawer open. Determined to help the man out, the visitor found a screwdriver, and they spent two minutes tightening a loose screw. Spend two minutes now to save yourself hours in the future.

organized tools

Notice areas that need improvement and fix what bugs you. It may be a small thing, but all the small things add up. If the water spots on the mirror in the bathroom bug you, wipe it down when you wash your hands. If the coffee is too bitter, print instructions and put the right measuring cup in the coffee container.

6. Use creativity over capital.

Idea: Ask a different person how to solve a problem. Use the team members in other departments to get different perspectives on solving a problem. Peoples' minds work differently.

Creatively repurpose instead of replacing. If team members notice that a door is slamming shut and request a new door, do not get a $450 new door. Purchase a $60 soft door closer or transfer one from another door that does not need it.

Idea: Repurpose an existing tool for testing or research and development. We often use 3D printers to design test equipment and jigs instead of machining new components. Once we have arrived at a design, we will machine it in-house or send it out to a 3rd party if cost-effective.

CNC machine

7. Problems are opportunities in disguise.

Sometimes the solution to a problem can be applied to different problems. At Wasco, we broadcast our solutions in a weekly Win Report so that others can benefit from our discoveries.

When you change the way you view problems, it is easier to find solutions. Solutions in one sphere will lead to opportunities in other spheres. When supply chain shortages hit in 2020 and 2021, we increased our inventory drastically; the larger orders put us first in line for our suppliers, and while our competitors did not have the inventory to satisfy demand, our demand increased.

8. Fix the root cause.

Fixing the root cause will eliminate future confusion and problems. For example: if the packaging part bags are not sealing correctly, do not change the process by adjusting the heat sealers to compensate for faulty bags. Get to the root cause by sourcing the correct bags and eliminating variations. Band-aid fixes are quick and easy, but when the root causes are not addressed, it will be a bigger problem down the road.

Root causes often are related to training and the elimination of tribal knowledge. See commandment 9 below.

plant roots

9. The wisdom of many is better than the knowledge of one.

Eliminate tribal knowledge through decentralized command. The more information that exists in one person's head, the more that person becomes a bottleneck. Eliminate tribal knowledge by transferring information from your head to your team and documenting it for future training. As an example, Wasco leadership has taken the time to transfer tribal knowledge about the company's history through a Wasco history presentation for team members.

10. There is no destination on the improvement journey...

...hence the "continuous." Cascade the principles of continuous improvement down to your team. Make it a part of your company culture, create a win log for continuous improvement successes and a list of suggestions from the team. You do not need to act on all of them, but simply taking the time to capture opportunities will reinforce a culture of continuous improvement and invite the rest of the team on the journey. If it is just leadership that is on the journey and leadership stops, you were not doing continuous improvement.

man on a mountain top


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