Continuous improvement KPIs

Stanton McGroarty says continuous improvement is the soul of manufacturing competitiveness.

By J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, senior technical editor

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A leader who is resting on his laurels wears them on the wrong end. Continuous improvement is the soul of manufacturing competitiveness. It must be led, and success must be rewarded to guarantee future success.

Once the production team members in a facility are thoroughly familiar with the rules and the reality of the production system in their plant, they are ready to start improving it. They are positioned to suggest the kinds of subtle improvements that make them the brains of a manufacturing organism. Continuous improvement is a natural process but it is not automatic.

The first step of continuous improvement is the proposal of improvement ideas. Team members who value their participation in a learning organization become a constant source of useful thoughts. To help the process continue, managers need to acknowledge that it is taking place and that it is creating useful change. Ideas that are submitted must be carefully reviewed and acknowledged to the submitters. An intelligent technician will not have many ideas disappear “down a well” before concluding the company isn’t serious about improvement. Even ideas that aren’t enacted should be discussed and, if appropriate, clarified or improved by a supervisor or peer group. Counts of submitted ideas should be handled as performance items in both the submitters’ and their supervisors’ reviews.

Ideas that are selected for action should be identified and placed into a publicly visible schedule. Most can be scheduled for tech review, modeling, design, and installation by an area supervisor teaming with the engineer who will perform the technical work. Unless the ideas are complex, these schedules should be in days, not weeks. Some organizations review ideas and report daily on progress, at the beginning of the shift. This demonstration of urgency helps everyone understand the importance placed on continuous improvement. Safety suggestions can also be handled in the same chain when this kind of energy is applied. Further discussion of this way of life is available at, and a picture of a safety dojo where improvements are tracked is part of this safety story at

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at or check out his .

Part of the engineering phase of each improvement should be the development of a simple, pro forma business case. The safety impact and business case information for implemented improvements is a second performance item for engineering and supervisory staff. The nurturing and implementation of continuous improvement ideas is an important part of their jobs, as is the delivery of the resulting savings and safety improvements.

Getting started

Most organizations have a small group of engineering and production people who already make a practice of continuous improvement, even in the absence of an official program to support them. Identify these people and use them as consultants in starting the official program. There are two reasons for doing so. First, you will get a great deal of useful help and information from those who have already succeeded in continuous improvement. Second, you will not be setting up the new program in competition with the people who have already been contributing the kind of help you are trying to generate.

If possible, identify some recent successes that the unofficial team have delivered and build the business cases for them. This will demonstrate the value of the approach and create some recognition for those who have already made contributions. Be certain to give credit where it is due, or the process will backfire.

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