Five Guiding Principles – Continuous Improvement
I’m sure you have all heard the word kaizen in your time, ‘Kai’ meaning change and ‘zen’ meaning for the better.
I can remember leading a team on one of my first assignments in a leadership role where we had to re-design the bracketing holding the cable looms on our business jet that ran from the rear of the aircraft to the cockpit. There was a need to prevent the chaffing on the protective sleeves as the fuselage flexed during its various stages of flight.
We attacked the problem with gusto coming up with quite a few new designs using different materials. The overall cost, I thought, was nothing to concern ourselves with considering the safety aspect of the problem.
It was some twelve months later when my paradigms were challenged along with my pride and dignity. During a kaizen session, an aircraft technician pointed at my wonderful bracket and said ‘Who in their right mind came up with this?’ Before I could open my mouth another chimed in. ‘Someone without a brain’.
Well, let me tell you. I gave it to them with both barrels. My wrath reached levels my high horse could not climb to. Once my tirade on engineering specialities, metal fatigue, design parameters and so forth came to an end I was asked a simple question. ‘Why don’t we just use cable ties? They’re much lighter and since they’re not exposed to sunlight in the fuselage they won’t decay. And it will be much easier to replace the cable. Cheaper too’
‘Well,’ I said. ‘Well…’ I look around. ‘Well…’ Then they’re laughing at me around the table.
‘It’s alright, mate.’ he says. ‘Happens all the time.’ I don’t quite understand what he means and he can see that on my face. ‘It’s just an idea. A good one, mind. Yours was OK but we’ve just found a better way. Can we get on with it then?’
Well, the next aircraft down the line had tie wraps and my beautiful brackets were consigned to the scrap bin. I learned a lesson that day, a big one. I thought I was doing kaizen when actually I was being a pompous ass running around with an imagined authority on improvement. ‘Stand aside, everybody. Radley is here!’ The lesson was to listen as a leader and enable. It wasn’t for me to come up with ideas because whatever I did come up with was likely to be a poor cousin in comparison with those of the technicians. My job was to knock down all the barriers that may stand between a good idea making it into production. And if I did that well there was a chance the technicians would generate more ideas.
Real, true continuous improvement is when ideas are being generated every day by every individual and not consigned to the pompous asses of this world who get in the way of a good idea.