Articles on Continuous Improvement by Dr Mike Bell
The following articles will open up as .pdf files
What is Continuous Improvement?
The background to Continuous Improvement and why we now need improvement systems.
The idea behind continuous improvement is very simple - people improving the work that they do, getting better and better, day by day. However, in practice, this is not as easy as it sounds. What can we learn from our cavemen ancestors that will help us in this technological age? This article will cover the tools and systems of continuous improvement, such as lean and six sigma, but I will focus is on why making improvements has become so hard. Why is it that we struggle to implement the smallest of changes? What are the barriers to change and how do we overcome them?
The aim of this article is to present some simple strategies and help everyone see why continuous improvement should be something that they apply every single day. The solution is simple, simple improvements, affording dramatic results.
When Projects Go Bad
How to recognise a bad improvement project and what to do to get it back on track.
Most of us have been involved, at one time or another, in a bad improvement project. Perhaps there was enthusiasm at the start, the team really thought that they could achieve something and make a difference. The initial training and, possibly, the first few meetings seemed to go well. However that was not enough to translate into a successful outcome. More and more folk became sceptical about the project and the whole approach to improvement. Maybe you have moved on and that project is just a bad memory or maybe, just maybe, you are right in the middle of that project nightmare right now. If that is the case, then this article should be of immediate use.
My aim in writing about bad improvement projects is to help people recognise what is going wrong and, hopefully, take action to correct it. However, my ultimate aim is to prevent projects going off track in the first place, so I will present a series of tips and tricks that I have seen to be effective over many hundreds of projects; much better to start off in the right way than have to fix things later.
A simple approach to improvement by making a process visible.
Process maps become useful in driving improvement when they are simple and visual, allowing everyone to understand them and see possible ways to do things better. In my experience it is best to start with a simple map that everyone can follow and use that to build on successive layers of detail; e.g. value stream maps show not just the process steps but the material and information flow, along with the people required at each stage. Jumping straight to a complex map (and most people do not understand value stream maps), misses the opportunity to involve everyone and benefit from their ideas for improvement. And you will find only a few cases where the additional complexity is needed. Keeping process maps simple leads to the best improvement ideas.
Continuous Improvement in a Regulated Environment
What to change and how to change it while maintaining control over your processes.
There are certain industries that are highly regulated primarily because of the impact if something goes wrong; ultimately there is a risk of seriously harming or even killing people. Examples include nuclear power generation, building aircraft, extracting gas, oil or coal and large parts of the chemical industry. New processes are subject to extensive hazard and operability studies to identify and mitigate risks and, once in safe operation, are rigorously controlled to ensure that changes do not increase existing or pose new risks. My own experience comes from over 10 years in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, manufacturing active ingredients for parenterals (injectable drugs), project managing new factory builds and leading the technical transfer of customer processes for clinical trials.
Therefore, I operated to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and GLP (Good Laboratory Practice), employed validated facilities, processes and equipment, trained the operators to very high standards and was myself a slave to the change control procedure. Please understand that my modus operandus is to seek improvement everywhere; change is in my blood. So how did I survive and thrive in such a tightly regulated environment? The answer is that I managed to find many, many opportunities for improvement by working with the system, not against it. In this article I will offer some insights for how to create a continuous improvement culture in a regulated environment. My examples will come from the pharma and biotech industries, but I believe that the principles should be readily transferable to other regulated sectors.
Effective and Efficient Project Management
A simple approach to structuring, running and making projects successful.
My experience in project management spans several decades and includes multi-million pound pharmaceutical facility construction projects, running drug scale-up programmes and a myriad of other things, such as IT system implementation, organisational re-design and negotiating terms and conditions changes with unions. But I have also arranged my own wedding, booked one or two holidays and cooked Christmas dinner for the extended family. These are projects too.
My current focus is teaching and coaching people how to run improvement projects. This has given me a great insight into how to structure a project, manage it and deliver it successfully. The key is to keep things simple. Too many project managers get lost in the detail and lose sight of their objective. And they get lost in their plans, milestones and budgets, forgetting that project management is mainly about relationships. If you cannot get everyone on board and get them involved and participating, no amount of Gantt charts will help you.
Simple Systems Thinking
An article exploring the benefits of
defining, managing and improving any organisation as a system
This article is about systems. Not IT systems, but the way that organisations should be viewed as inter-related, inter-connected and inter-dependent systems. I am going to take the simple approach in order to help anyone to define, manage and improve the system that they work in. There are lots of academic papers out there about organisations mirroring biological ecosystems, about the psychology of inter-relationships within a system etc. But this is too complicated to be useful in an everyday situation. Therefore, I am covering Simple Systems Thinking. Many people struggle with the systems view, so I have included a couple of examples to demonstrate the thinking behind the approach and highlight the dangers of trying to manage the parts of the system individually.
There are huge benefits to managing an organisation as (part of) a system; better alignment and direction, clearer roles and responsibilities, better overall results. The traditional (fragmented) approach assumes that each part can be managed individually, with the system taking care of itself. This creates the belief that it is important to keep people busy, keep them working, keep them productive. However, most organisations that I visit are busy working on the wrong things, busy fixing issues that they have created and busy serving targets not the customer. I would encourage everyone to take a step back and consider the system that they work in; is it managed as a system or as a collection of unrelated parts? The switch to simple systems thinking has the potential to transform the customer experience, make the organisation much more effective and make it a much better place to work.
A Guide to Coaching
Practical Process Improvement (PPI)
Teams through the 8-Step Method©
Employees are formed into PPI teams to solve important problems. They are taught and coached the PPI tools and methodology by a PPI Process Manager, who guides them through the 8-Step Method© over a period of about 10 weeks. The tools are simple, the method logical and structured, but the coaching is critical to the project outcome. Most new Process Managers understandably focus on learning how to teach the training days. They pay little attention to the coaching. The aim of this article is to explain what coaching is, how to apply coaching to the 8-Step Method© and what to expect as the teams progress to the PPI Report Out. It is written for Process Managers, especially, but not exclusively, those new in the role.
PPI 8020 Introduction
A sample of the new PPI 8020 Team Training Workbook (the introductory chapter).
In PPI 8020, the teams receive 3 days of training in the PPI methodology with each training day covered by a section in this training workbook. The training is conducted using presentation slides and a facsimile of the slide is printed on the top of the right hand page of the book. Therefore, students can either follow the material in the book or on the projector screen.
The slides consist mainly of diagrams that will be described, explained and discussed by the person teaching and coaching (called a Process Manager in PPI). The key messages from each slide are captured in a few bullet points underneath and there is also space for the students to make notes.
This layout is used for two reasons; firstly, in recognition of how adults learn. Retention of information is enhanced when the students are made to think about what they are seeing, hearing and doing (in the form of the many exercises). If what is on the screen is different from what is being said, but complementary, they will understand and remember more. If they take notes, draw diagrams or discuss the key points, they will understand and remember more. Secondly, PPI will be taught and coached by people within the organisation, people with real jobs, not professional trainers. Therefore, the material is set out in this simple format to help them as much as possible.
Finally, the left hand page is more like a traditional book, with a more in depth discussion of the same concepts that are shown in the slides. People can use this as a reference guide, coming back to it to reinforce, expand and refresh their knowledge.