4 Questions for Continuous Improvement
As Jim, the owner of the company, walked the job site with the head of safety and quality, he said, “You know, we’ve made big gains in safety, quality and production, even as we’ve grown over 200% the past couple of years, but things have plateaued, and I don’t know what to do.”
This may sound familiar, or maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum – it seems that you are headed down the wrong path or perhaps have even hit rock bottom. The solution to both problems is the same: ask these four questions.
Question 1: What’s Good?
We want to double down on the good. We want to figure out what it is and communicate it to increase operational consistency and efficiency throughout the company. These are called best practices, and you’re likely to find that once your boots-on-the-ground get ahold of them, they’ll make them even better.
The good is probably the most overlooked aspect of our operations. We naturally focus on what’s broken – continuously playing whack-a-mole and oiling squeaky wheels. Focusing more on the good is akin to watering and fertilizing the grass and allowing that strong, healthy grass to choke out the weeds, instead of wasting time repeatedly pulling the same weeds.
Stop and Consider: What three things do we do best? How could we do them even better?
Question 2: What’s Confusing?
We want to clarify it. A crew may be confused by a site-, task- or situation-specific issue that doesn’t quite fit into their working reality, or maybe it’s the new procedure that they are still trying to understand. We want to identify these issues during job site observations, clarify them in the field and communicate them regularly to the rest of the company.
Stop and Consider: What are the top three things on this job site that fall into the “confusing” category? Who can clarify them?
Question 3: What’s Broken?
We want to fix it. This is something that might be physically broken, or it could be that procedure that’s suffering from Cubicle Syndrome (i.e., it sounded like a great plan in the office, but it doesn’t work in the field). We want to identify these items during our job site visits and find a good, responsible party to fix them.
Stop and Consider: What are three things here that need fixing, and who do we need to talk to in order to make that happen?
Question 4: What’s Missing?
We want to add it. This is about resources: people, equipment, tools, material and time. We must take a hard look in the mirror on this one. Are our expectations aligned with our crew’s working reality, or are we just giving them a mandate and hoping they can magically pull it off somehow?
Stop and Consider: What missing things do you need – not want – to be able to do the job right and go home unharmed today? Who can get you those things?
We need to ask these questions at the end of every workday during an after-action review (AAR) or a post-job briefing. Do you want to know how the U.S. Navy SEALs and other elite military units moved from good to great to world-class? It’s because of AARs. After every exercise, before they clean their weapons or get some chow, they circle up to consider these four questions. Then they go around the circle twice. The first time around is about the individual speaking. That person speaks about what they did and didn’t do well and why (because they were confused or something was broken or missing). The second time around is about everyone else. If I missed something about me, those on my left and right serve as a blind-spot mirror and speak up.
The beauty of these questions is that you’ll never run out of answers and ideas for continuous improvement.
About the Author: Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP, is the chief safety and training officer for Freedom Solar Power, an Austin, Texas-based residential and commercial solar installation contractor.