The Quest for Operational Excellence Within the Printing Industry
Savvy printing executives would agree that systematically striving for operational excellence is one key to financial success. OK, then why don’t more companies do it?
The are many reasons, but I bet one of the most commonly cited is “I don’t know how” (or for self-deluded individuals “I’m doing fine as it is”).
Operational excellence is when a printing company’s system — the accumulated processes that follow when an order is received — is running on all cylinders. Throughput speed, inventory levels, day-to-day operating costs, and customer satisfaction are all superior and getting better. Jobs are delivered on time and done right. Resources are efficiently used. The culture breeds innovation.
Seeking excellence takes passion, new leadership approaches, a model to follow, and perseverance. There are a variety of models that companies can follow: ISO 9001 (which provides a good foundation), Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence on which the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is based, Total Quality Management, and Lean/Six Sigma. Here are two others to choose from:
The Shingo Model
The Shingo Model is based on the Lean thinking approach taught by Dr. Shigeo Shingo and used by Toyota and other world-class manufacturing companies. Shingo, a Japanese management consultant and engineer, recognized the vital philosophies needed to achieve high levels of effectiveness and efficiency. His model, refined by the Shingo Institute, is based on ten guiding principles over four dimensions.
Dimension One: Culture Enablers
Culture enablers make it possible for employees to understand the guiding principles, engage in organizational transformation, and create a culture of excellence.
- Respect Every Individual — Respect must be felt deeply by every employee, customer, supplier, and community member.
- Lead with Humility — Leaders must be willing to seek input, listen carefully, and continuously learn.
Dimension Two: Continuous Process Improvement
Every employee must know “what good is” and be taught how to spot waste and improve their processes. Some companies make it clear that the most important responsibility of employees is to constantly improve their processes; supervisors coach them and provide the resources to do that. A measure tracked by companies that do this is the average number of improvement ideas implemented each year per employee. Raising that number increases the rate of improvement.
- Seek Perfection — This aspiration enables a mindset and culture of continuous improvement.
- Embrace Scientific Thinking — Improvement is the consequence of experimenting, observing results, adjusting, and experimenting again.
- Focus on Process — The majority of problems are rooted in imperfect processes, not people.
- Assure Quality at the Source — Standard procedures, effective maintenance, visual management, and training all contribute to getting the job done right the first time. Errors must be spotted and fixed immediately.
- Flow & Pull Value — While it may be exceedingly difficult, the target is a continuous and uninterrupted workflow.
Dimension Three: Enterprise Alignment
Operational excellence requires that managers align activities with the company mission, values, and strategic priorities. Approaches undertaken without this thought are apt to introduce wasted time and effort.
- Think Systemically — Improvements must be made with solid information while considering the entire operation, not processes in isolation.
- Create Constancy of Purpose — Everyone needs to be clear on why the organization exists, where it is going, and how it will get there.
Dimension Four: Results
Businesses define value in the eyes of the customer and set up processes that meet customer needs. In addition, operational and process measurements are needed to monitor performance and spot improvement opportunities.
- Create Value for the Customer — Work to understand customers’ needs and expectations. Try to eliminate activities that customers don’t value.
The Shingo Institute (www.shingo.org) is your source to learn more. The Institute also manages the Shingo Prize, the world’s best-known award program for operational excellence.
2 Second Lean Model
This philosophy appeared in 2011 with the publication of Paul Akers’s book by the same name. Akers heads a small manufacturing company and was frustrated by the complex way that Lean manufacturing was explained and taught to manufacturers like him. He hired consultants, learned as much as he could, and distilled Lean down to a very simple premise — fix what bugs you.
Among its guiding principles:
- Small Improvements Every Day — Set aside time every day so all employees can make a small improvement (saving 2 seconds of time or more). Small incremental improvements quickly accumulate into significant performance gains.
- Teach the Eight Wastes — Everyone in the company should know them by heart. (For the record, the eight wastes are transportation, wasted motion, defects, waiting, excess inventory, over-processing, over-production, and wasted employee potential.)
- Put Improvements on Video — Use simple before and after videos to document improvements.
- Meet Regularly as a Team — Get together once a day to address issues, talk about improvements, and teach Lean principles.
- Fix What Bugs You — Can’t find something to improve? Employees can simply fix what they struggle with. After learning the eight wastes individuals will start seeing clunky processes everywhere.
The use of the 2 Second Lean approach is having a profoundly positive effect on a growing number of manufacturers. You can learn more about it by reading the 156-page book (download a free PDF at paulakers.net/books/2-second-lean).
There is overlap between the principles of the different models, and companies often use them to develop their own distinctive approach. One of the best ways to gain insight is to listen to other companies describe the steps they are taking. In May of 2022, several printing companies will be giving case studies at the Continuous Improvement Conference, sharing their specific experiences and lessons learned.
Companies that accept that their operations need to be better should put in place management systems that will enable the quest for excellence. For those that aren’t convinced, quality guru W. Edwards Deming famously offered this thought, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
About the CI Conference
The 2022 Continuous Improvement Conference (May 1–4 in Scottsdale, Arizona) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence by using the concepts of Lean manufacturing and other management and quality systems. Whether you’re starting a structured improvement program or are looking for ways to sustain and improve your existing efforts, the conference has content specifically designed for your knowledge level. To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org.
Continuous Improvement Newsletter is published by PRINTING United Alliance in support of its annual Continuous Improvement Conference. Past issues are available at ci.printing.org/ci-newsletters.
Jim Workman recently retired after a career that spanned 40 years, first with Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, then Printing Industries of America, and most recently, PRINTING United Alliance. He managed the Continuous Improvement Conference for most of its 32-year existence.