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To improve is to raise to a higher or more desirable quality, value, or condition; to make a change for the better; to use to good advantage, utilize well; to increase something's excellence or value. Real improvement is both the objective and the result of the other three I's: continuous improve-ment in the way we think and work, leading ultimately to the achievement of excellence. Continuous improvement is a process of frequent incremental, often small, advances with a constant pace (that have an exponential cumulative effect).

The focus should be on eliminating waste: identifying non-value-adding processes in all aspects of our business opera­tions and eliminating them bit by bit in an ongoing effort. We should then be world-class in quality, product value, customer service and profitability. Fujio Cho of Toyota defines waste as "anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, space, and worker's time, which are essential to add value to the product." [6]

Garwood and Bane [3] remind us that the real secret is mindset. The concept of continuous improvement is prob­ably the hardest concept to grasp—the idea of doing it over and over, as a process not a project, a race with no finish line. The Japanese have shown us the power of this mindset as they built huge leads on us by making small, incremental improvements while we in the U.S. were trying to make the "big score" masterpiece.

"We must not look for just an improvement in our perfor­mance, no matter how significant. We must find a way to establish an ongoing, never ending process of improve­ment." So say Eli Goldratt and Robert Fox in The Race [5]. They state that Just-in-Time techniques, new technology and good management practices should be brought to bear where they will have the greatest impact, and will result in a continuous increase in net profit, ROI and cash flow. They recommend identifying and zooming in on our real constraints to break them, then moving on to the new constraints (internal or external) in a continual focused effort.

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The only way to secure and improve our competitive position in today's accelerating-change environment is by instituting a process of ongoing improvement. To make this process effective, we must obtain wide- spread commit­ment throughout the organization, so that there is a complete acceptance of the continuous improvement process. Educa­tion is one key to this acceptance and commitment.

We must establish standards as the basis for improvement contends Kiyoshi [6]. By setting standards and practicing management by exception we are able to solve each prob­lem and then improve the standard to eliminate the cause. Constant monitoring and revision (improvement) of the standards when necessary will support an ongoing opera­tions improvement process. A company's competitive position is enhanced when each worker follows the stan­dards and pays attention to improvement activities. All improvement ideas are to be encouraged and adopted to maintain the process.

Human Resource Management is one key to this process. William Boyst [17] relates the wise saying that "Systems only make things possible—it is people who make things happen." We must develop multi-disciplined, multifunc­tional employees who are focused on continuous improve­ment for themselves and their company. Education and

motivation by enlightened management are keys to this development. An employee involvement program is the mechanism for achieving the results.

The Martin Company discovered that employees can and will rise to the occasion, according to David Garvin [19]. They were able to achieve a perfect zero defects process by "demanding perfection." They instilled this principle in their work force through training, special events, and recognition of the positive efforts of each worker.

Harwood and Pieters [29] relate their successful efforts at Signetics in implementing a quality improvement process supported by broad-based education, strong management direction, measurable goals, and effective employee in­volvement. The result was a very successful, ongoing improvement process that produced increased market share, lower costs, and reduced production lead times.

To be Continued


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