Manufacturing process-improvement ideas are best generated by the people doing the work, whether it be on the manufacturing shop floor or in the office taking orders over the phone. Supervisors and managers must become adept at soliciting process improvement suggestions. Employees performing processes must be mindful of concepts such as waste, the value of standardizing processes and a focus on continuous improvement — no matter how small the improvement is. Lean manufacturing concepts embrace continuous process improvement and offer an excellent basis for a process-improvement program.

Identify Waste

Waste is the opposite of improvement. Through waste identification, many processes can be streamlined. Waste includes defects, movement, overproduction, inventory, processing, waiting and transportation. Lean manufacturing training identifies the wastes and how to uncover them. Elimination of waste is a great way to identify process-improvement ideas.

Eliminate What the Customer Doesn't Value

Attempting to eliminate what the customer doesn't value also helps to identify process-improvement ideas. Designing tolerances into products that the customer doesn't care about is not valuable. Such overdesign can be eliminated. A process called value-stream mapping identifies every step in the manufacturing process, and whether the customer values the step. If the customer doesn't value the step, then the step should be analyzed for elimination. Many times, waste identification will overlap with identifying what is not valuable. Firms use value-stream mapping along with waste identification to find ideas for process improvement.

Train Management and Employees

Management trained in eliciting process improvement from those doing the actual work results in more process-improvement suggestions. Training employees in how to identify process improvements is also necessary. Employees who realize that improvement suggestions are part of their job and will be acted upon by the company readily offer ideas.

Continuous Improvement Culture

An attitude that any improvement suggestion, no matter how small, will be analyzed for approval and implementation provides an environment for continuous improvement. It is very important to provide an analysis, approval and implementation process for ideas that is quick and easily understood. Encouraging ideas without this process quickly results in discouragement and failure of the program.