This question has many possible answers and sometimes it is difficult to make things clear in order to answer, but I will try to clarify it through this post.
Let’s start with the first thing to know: continuous improvement allows approaching processes from another point of view, learning to know them to get the maximum efficiency (time, quality, cost, etc.) to purify them until they can be improved, something we can never achieve, because, as Sakichi Toyoda said in the 1890s:
“No machine or process will reach a point from which it cannot continue to improve.”
And this is not easy since not only do you have to have good technical knowledge, but you also have to have leadership skills.
Acquisition of technical knowledge
Let’s start with the technical knowledge: within continuous improvement there are 3 great methodologies that can be applied. The first, and most important, is the kaizen philosophy, which means continuous improvement in Japanese. It is the one that advances the improvement in companies and keeps it going. It is under this umbrella that we can find the other two great methodologies: the Lean philosophy and the Six Sigma methodology. We can also add the root cause analysis tools such as A3 or 8D.
Kaizen objective is to always seek to improve, involving all employees in this desire for improvement by promoting a radical change of mind in the company.
Whether it is through the realization of kaizen events or with planned improvements, programmed and followed through an action plan, Kaizen allows raising the level of efficiency of any organization and applies to all sectors.
In the case of Lean, we must understand the principles of Lean to start doing only those things that add value from the point of view of the client, internal or external, having clear concepts of value chain, value-added activities and waste or mudas to optimize the company’s processes and its performance.
With regard to the Six Sigma, we must know the DMAIC methodology (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) oriented to the search of the root cause of the problems and to the minimization of the variability of the processes.
We can approach this methodology as a Green Belt or Black Belt. The belt color difference is basically a reflection of the level of statistical knowledge that is possessed, knowing that 80% of the problems of a company can be solved with a Green Belt level. The methodology and the way to apply it is rigorously the same for both levels.
Choosing to start with Lean or Six Sigma will depend on each one. The important thing is to learn and apply what you have learned on a day-to-day basis. If you already have knowledge of one of these methodologies, you can go for the other.
Root cause analysis
Problem solving techniques using root cause analysis or root cause analysis, based on the principles of the Deming PDCA cycle are also used in the environment of continuous improvement. A problem that occurs in a production line or in the execution of an administrative process can not occur again a second time.
Six Sigma is one of the most complete root cause analysis tools, but there are also more specific tools, such as the 8D (8 Disciplines) and the A3 model.
But all these are techniques that help to improve, but we cannot forget that people are led by their motivation, skills and their shared values that make possible the implementation of improvements.
Training for leadership
One of the most important tasks to which a person of continuous improvement is dedicated is to convince.
As a general rule, people are quite reluctant to change. We could give an endless number of examples illustrating this fact, but all of us who have had to change someone’s way of working at some point have seen how difficult it is.
But the persuasion is not only important when implementing solutions, we also have to convince our hierarchy that the use of these methods of work are beneficial in the long term and that jumping to a quick solution is not always the best attitude.
Having good communication and leadership skills are important at this level: being able to convey a message and being understood and being able to listen to the feedback of others is basic. In addition, we must be able to do it with all the profiles of the company, from the manager of the company, its directors or their operators, shift managers, technicians, etc., to our suppliers and, in some cases, our customers.
Without this ability to persuade others without being their direct boss, many initiatives for continuous improvement will not come to fruition.
The safe bet: enroll in the Green Belt course
Although the options are multiple, the most effective and safest route to enter or advance in the profession of continuous improvement is to start with a Green Belt Six Sigma training in which the basic concepts of kaizen are reviewed, including kaizen events, and of the Lean principles with their changelings. Then you can go deeper into the principles of Lean and with more concrete tools (5S, SMED, TPM …).
From here, as in all fields, we will have to continue training. For example, on team management and persuasive leadership or effective communication and effective feedback to be able to be understood and to better understand others.