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Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Earlier in my career, I was asked to lead the design and operation of a manufacturing value stream. The process, compared to the legacy processes, was dramatically better in all performance dimensions. Improvements made in the flow of material, information, and people reduced the amount of waste. It also made more opportunities visible.

The 36 team members used the new improvement board to suggest many ideas for improvement. They placed idea cards on the board at an incredible pace. My two supervisors and I supported the implementation of those ideas as fast as we could. We provided time for team members to experiment and/or implement those ideas and pulled on maintenance support when necessary. Within a few weeks, more than 200 ideas had been implemented and as many were outstanding, waiting for capacity.

The engineer in me thought the board would gain visibility by replacing the handwritten cards with a spreadsheet. This did not go well. The ownership of those ideas had somewhat been transferred from the team members to my computer. The emotional attachment to the ideas was gone. The interest to drive improvement slowed down. The initial passion for improvement dissipated and frustration grew. The expectation was for management to own the improvements.

We eventually corrected the situation by removing the Excel spreadsheet. We also established the maximum number of ideas that could be in the “To Do” and the “Doing” columns and created a pull system from “Done” to “Doing” and “To Do.” The improvement idea system was back in operation!



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