When adopting the philosophy of continuous improvement the methods by which changes are identified and implemented are paramount to success. The basic premise of continuous improvement is the implementation of small incremental changes over time. Continuous improvement principles teach us that the majority of quality problems are the result of flawed processes. So focusing on process components, identifying changes that will have positive impact and implementing them gradually will lead to high levels of performance. Following are keys to selecting points of improvement in auto repair processes:
- Focus on the Base Process First – The standard steps in any given process are the foundation upon which all other components of the procedure are based. If there are improvements that can be made in the base process they should be identified and implemented first. If the basis of the process is solid then exception and entry/exit point improvements will be much more effective.
- Assess Entry and Exit Points – The means by which work enters or exits a process can have a profound impact on efficiency and service quality. Communication of entry and exit activities should be automatic. In other words when work exits a process – entry into the next process should happen seamlessly. If there are breaks in the transition – that is the receiving process has to take action to identify work that is ready for entry – then the interaction has room for improvement. Often entry and exit points involve work moving between different areas of a company and people tend to build up activities to avoid blame. The recording of movement from one process to another should happen automatically thus eliminating the need for protective barriers that negatively impact efficiency.
- Evaluate Exception Handling Procedures – Exceptions in a given procedure are all the things that happen based on certain conditions. They’re the steps that don’t happen every time the procedure is executed. In addition to evaluating exception handling for procedural efficiency – consideration should also be given to value added. If the benefits realized by handling an exception doesn’t justify the cost – it may make sense to drop the exception from service offerings.
- Define the Expected Result of Changes – When a potential process improvement is identified the expected benefit should be stated. Without identifying the anticipated benefit the impact of the change cannot be evaluated.
- Implement Changes One at a Time – The very premise of continuous improvement is that of small incremental changes over time. So if analysis discovers a number of opportunities there may be a desire to implement them all at once. When changes are made wholesale it’s difficult if not impossible to gauge their impact. Also the risk that any change may result in an unanticipated negative consequence is multiplied.
- Owners of Processes are the Best Engineers – The people who perform a given process are the best at defining, analyzing and improving the process. These are the people that are most knowledgeable regarding the intricacies of the processes they execute and will be the best at identifying the impact of changes once they’re implemented.