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Continuous improvement: what it means for leading brands today

Have you ever wondered what the spinning spirals are for on a jet engine? If you thought it was to keep the birds away, then you’d be right, but it also has another purpose which you might find surprising from this piece of mechanical engineering. The spirals are used a signal to the many ground staff working around a plane. The rule is, if you can’t see the spirals, the engine is still on and too powerful.

Once you can see them, it’s safe to walk behind. As a regular flyer I probably knew about the birds and not so much about the latter, but this is an example of a Lean methodology, a tool to prevent an error and injury.

When we talk about ‘Lean’ or ‘Lean 6 Sigma’ most people think it doesn’t apply to their business as it’s all about the automotive industry. And that is true, the very best manufacturing and automotive companies are very lean and efficient in how they work. They have to be because the cost of not being efficient can be very high. Imagine what would happen if a car came off the production line missing a vital bolt or part?

So what is Lean 6 Sigma? It is a combination of Lean methodologies that looks at reducing waste from a process (anything that slows it down), and 6 Sigma tools that seek to improve performance by reducing variation and defects through the measurement of data.

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” - H. James Harrington, author & management mentor

When you think about your graphic supply process, have you really stopped to think about how efficient is it?

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • It takes so long to get the inputs collated

  • There are lots of people who need to be involved

  • We have to wait...

  • There is always a bottleneck at the same point

  • We are under resourced

  • We need to be quicker than our competitors

If the answer is yes, then there is opportunity to make improvements. But you shouldn’t be overwhelmed at the scale of the project. There will be some simple quick wins that that you can implement and there will be others that require more strategic thought, sponsorship & investment. For example, you can create of a simple briefing template to bring consistency at no cost with minimal effort or you may need to implement of a new technology system which would require considerable investment.

So where to begin?

Define your goals.

You firstly need to define what you want to achieve. Try to be as specific as you can so you can measure success against it. For example, do you want to improve your RFT rate or reduce your cycle time rate.

Identify where you stand.

Then, identify where you currently stand against your objectives. Hopefully, you will have access to that data but if not, you will need to spend some time collecting it to get an accurate picture.

For the most part you will know where those areas are that need addressing but knowing the data will support and validate the fact if it comes to needing a business case that requires investment.

Prioritize your target.

Once you’ve identified where you are, you can look at prioritizing the areas that need to be addressed first and if the target you’ve set is realistic and achievable. Your process needs to be capable of meeting or exceeding those targets so be careful not to be too ambitious, you can always increase your targets over time.

Like the jet plane spiral, what can be put in place as part of your process that acts as a rule to stop waste, redundant steps or ensure a desired action occurs?

For many of our clients the biggest challenges are around inputs; no source of truth, multiple stakeholders and multiple ways of working. There is also the mentality of ‘it’ll just get checked at artwork’ showing a lack of accountability and only moves the problem downstream.

WATCH: The Agency’s Role in In Today’s Content Environment: “Hidden Factories” Undermine Success

Get your inputs right and this will often drive everything else; reduced reworks, reduced queries, increased RFT, reduced or removal of waiting time and ultimately a reduced cycle or lead time. This is why we work with our clients to look at the complete end to end process as there are often dependencies between each step.

If you’re in an agency environment, how could you help deliver better outputs and results internally using the same thought process?

Lean 6 Sigma has to be collaborative, everyone working to a common goal otherwise success will not be realised. When making changes that affect people and how they do their jobs, your change management strategy has to be strong. Ensure you communicate early and often and get them on board.

It was Henry Ford who once said:

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Don’t forget, Lean 6 Sigma is not about perfection but about continuous improvement. Practicing the philosophy of continuous improvement is about getting a little bit better every day.

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