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Manufacturing Tomorrow

Manufacturing Tomorrow


How Top Performers Drive Continuous Improvement On The Shop Floor

Nov 01, 2016
By: Mark Stevens

In manufacturing, a popular method for measuring performance and driving continuous improvement is overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This measure combines metrics on machine availability, performance and quality. But it’s also important to look at how people affect the overall effectiveness of your manufacturing process, and identify top performers and best practices.

In continuous improvement and employee engagement, the key variables to look at include cost, quality, delivery and innovation. On the shop floor, manufacturing innovation doesn’t necessarily mean designing new products, but coming up with innovative ways of doing things and driving continuous improvement.

The top performers on the shop floor are those workers who exceed expectations for those different variables and beat benchmarks, modeling best practices in the organization. Here are three success factors that help set top performers apart.

1. Capacity: First of all, people need to have the capacity for continuous improvement. This means they need time in the day that they use to improve their work. A responsible shop floor leader realizes that improving someone’s work requires taking the time to analyze underlying factors that are holding that person back, and helping the person understand how to be better. That process takes time, so you have to create the capacity for improvement.

2. Capability: The next success factor is the person’s capability in critical thinking. A critical thinker looks at problems from multiple perspectives, and uses a patient, methodical approach to solving root problems, not just symptoms. When you talk about capability, the high performers understand what inquisitive questions they need to ask in problem-solving and, more importantly, the ones that they expect to have the largest impact on resolving the problem.

3. Desire for improvement: The final success factor is a person’s desire for continuous improvement on personal and organizational levels. A desire for improvement is self-owned; it can’t be trained or forced. Lots of people don’t care; they may want to participate, but they want someone else to provide the direction. When individuals have the capacity and capability to be top performers but lack desire, they get things done, but tend to work on symptoms as opposed to root causes and have less of an impact on continuous improvement.

As people with capacity, capability and desire start working on a manufacturing problem, seeing their self-discovery and ownership of the work is absolutely electric. It’s fun to watch, and each success builds on the last one. When people find out they’re able to do things they never would have suspected, it builds confidence. They also need to work for an organization that allows them freedom to build this confidence and acquire the tools they require to become successful.

Too often, manufacturing leaders tend to micromanage or discourage others from improving their skills, because they’re insecure about their own contribution to the organization. But when leaders let the people closest to the work do the problem solving, those people are working with the actual details of the manufacturing process, instead of basing their problem-solving on documentation. There’s a huge value in getting as many people as possible to think like top performers and in creating a culture of continuous improvement that starts at the top.


Mark Stevens
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