Continuous Improvement, Working Without a Safety Net

What gets in the way of improvement?  Stated differently, what gets in the way of on-going success?  Understand that today’s success is tomorrow’s mediocrity.  I believe the answer is related to our clarity of vision, our focus. We have heard the cliché, “Keep your eye on the ball”.  The question is which ball?

I believe that the answer is also related to how much energy we spend on maintaining the status quo. We can easily create an overload of rules, processes and metrics that keep us from doing our best work.  Like the swimmer who spends their energy treading water to avoid drowning, instead of swimming to shore.

The Fundamentals of 5S

I coached high school basketball for 4 years.  A significant learning from this experience was the importance of the basics, or the fundamentals.  We won a lot of games because we rebounded better, passed better and had fewer turnovers than the other teams we played.  Every day in practice we worked on the fundamentals of blocking out to improve our rebounding, the fundamentals of passing to get scoring opportunities, the fundamentals of  how to avoid dribbling so that we could overcome trapping defenses.  Because we did the little things right, the bigger things fell into place.

Seeing the Big Picture

Be aware of how much of the “Big Picture” you and your direct reports see. A common mistake in organizations trying to improve is the assumption that everyone gets it.  The diagram below shows how our scope of vision (how much of the “big Picture” we see) can be affected by our place in the organization.  

Top Down View

This phenomenon leads to sub-optimization and silo’ing. For example, one department applies 5-S strategy by moving their stuff into someone else’s area, or throws something important away.  Another group optimizes a value stream at the expense of other value streams, or the business in general. Buy-in is weak at best. 

Employee Engagement

Engagement is about respect.  I can tell you from experience that someone from outside a business can come in and see internal engagement problems in less than a day. It is all about respect, which is easy to observe.

A University of Berkley study, which focused on the survivability of marriages, found that the common denominator of failed relationships was the existence of a condescending attitude. Our relationships at work are the same. When there is a lack of respect between individuals or groups, there will also be silo’ing and sub optimizing.


My great grandfather had a team of mules he used for farming. He was the envy of the other farmers in the area because, as I learned, it is difficult to get mules work together as a team. Just because you have two mules, you don’t automatically have a team. As a freshman in college he would tell me stories about his mules and how he managed them to become a team. He would also show me letters from all over the mid-west offering to buy his mule team. They were something rare and valuable.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

The Lean Shop does not exist because of cutting costs.  It exists as a result of proven best practices. Sometime you have to spend money to save money.  This Lean bulletin is about determining both the most effective and the most efficient way to perform a task.

The axiom behind “You don’t know what you don’t know” is the same as for “If you are not measuring it, you’re are not managing it”.  There is value in knowing that a vehicle is in pre-loss condition and safe for the vehicle owner to drive.  But how do you know that these criteria are met?  Just guessing will cost you both time and money

Collision Shop Gemba Walks

Shop Walk Throughs

The Lean term for this strategy is “gemba walks”.  It basically means being out in the shop seeing firsthand what is happening.  More specifically, it is about making potential problems more visible.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Make positive interactions with employees.
  • Ask why things are being done, even if you think you already know. Listen carefully.  You may find that the employee’s view of “why” may be different than yours.  If their answer is “because I was told to”, you have an opportunity to teach. If their answers is that they are adjusting for a defect they inherited, you also have an opportunity to target and correct a problem.

Lean Shop Defect Elimination

If you are serious about making process improvements in your shop, the best place to start is defect elimination.  For this discussion, a defect is anything that is not done right the first time.  Things like failed inspections, wrong parts, comebacks , etc. In this brief write up, let’s focus on comebacks.  The points we make here can be applied to any activity in your shop.

There is a method to the madness of defect elimination. Here are a few steps to take:

  • Define what a defect is. This should be from the perspective of the customer, bottom line business metrics, safety, or cost.

Collision Repair Shop Cycle Time Bandits

Cycle Time Bandits

Where are the cycle time bandits in your business?  This key question becomes the starting point for streamlining your business and increasing profits.

Before you can accurately locate these profit stealing activities in your shop, you must first understand what you are measuring.  Here is a key point.  There are two timelines that we concern ourselves with.  One is the time we spend working on the vehicle, which is labor time, not cycle time. The other timeline is how long a vehicle resides in your care before being returned to the customer.  This is the timeline that is important, because it is the cycle time of the repair.  It is the time the vehicle spends doing something, or waiting on something, that is important.

Heatcraft Tifton Georgia

Thanks to the folks at Heatcraft in Tifton, Georgia, for spending some time with me. They have a design/build to customer specification manufacturing process that operates at a very good cycle time. This takes a “can do” attitude, and they have it.

They will tell you that focusing on the customer makes all the difference and they are right. That’s how you keep/save jobs.