Steering the Ship

In my years of implementing continuous improvement strategies the single most important factor of success has been a good steering team. That is the team of leaders responsible for improving the system. Many of you may think that this is common sense but none the less, the number of organizations that fail in their effort to sustain improvement is far greater than the ones that succeed. This failure rate can be directly attributed to the steering team’s inability to stay focused and on track.

There are many reasons why this happens. Some organizations use the argument of deteriorating business conditions or simply, “we don’t have the time to dedicate to this anymore”. Other organizations put a “champion” in the organization with the thought that he or she will carry on the effort and do what they should be doing. Some steering teams even think that their teams are under an automatic guidance system and will just progress on their own. These types of arguments are all formulas for failure.

A good steering team guides and steers continual improvement with a strategy that is in line with the organization’s goals and objectives. The team meets on a regular schedule with structured agendas and action items. It provides the time for core teams to meet and work on small and larger projects that lead to quality improvements, waste reductions, and process and safety improvements. The steering team must review and have status reports given to them by the core teams and project teams. The Steering Team is the sounding board and decision maker for what gets done and what has to wait. Steering teams are also responsible for the recognition of core teams and individuals by using a variety of ways to ensure good efforts are rewarded. Lastly they should be monitoring the health of their system by having good metrics and audits in place that are clear and understood by all.

Keeping the system of continual improvement in place is not easy. Weather you are implementing a Lean or Six Sigma methodology or a combination of the two it takes dedication, hard work, and commitment. Your people will follow your lead. If a steering team places importance on the effort your employees will also. The gains that can be achieved by staying the course far outweigh any of those arguments described above.

One last thought – Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” I think he was on to something.

We welcome your comments, stories or questions.

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