Daily habits the key to continuous improvement

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Paul Dunlop delves into the power of daily habits for achieving personal and organisational objectives.

If you are not making improvement daily you are not practicing continuous improvement.

Lean thinking is about the intentional and deliberate practice of applying a scientific method to making improvement each and every day. Toyota founded their business on this philosophy coupled with the concept of ‘respect for people’. This pairing has developed an unrivalled, sustainable method for engaging the workforce vertically and horizontally. Not to mention the harnessing of human potential particularly at the frontlines.

Developing daily habits

Developing a system of work based on standardisation and routine has many benefits for an organisation. It creates an environment of stability and predictability where variation and deviation from the norm are evident immediately – helping us to correct quickly. Routines also play to our strengths as human beings. We have a strong preference for repetitive tasks where our brains can go into ‘auto pilot’. Although only taking up approximately 2% of the body’s total mass the human brain consumes up to 20% of the bodies energy. Therefore, the energy saved by not having to think too much and reducing resistance in our brain function is highly valued. Another example of the importance of habit. The blessing and the curse here is that we are creatures of habit. We prefer the comfort and safety of the familiar. We have a bias towards routine that can be beneficial and complimentary to the objectives – or not.

“We have always done it this way” is the typical catch cry when change is afoot. Our natural instinct is to protect habits and routines because of their familiarity. Change means discomfort, it means resistance, and it creates friction in our brains that ordinarily feel secure in the known and assumed. Think of any situation in your life when something has changed. When you learned a new skill or developed a different habit – it took time, it took patience and it took a lot of focus and energy until things became easier as we attained a level of mastery. That level of mastery and the associated ease happens when our neural pathways “wire” together. They smooth the way for the thoughts, actions and behaviours to happen without requiring the neural horsepower and energy to do so.

Our daily workplace routines are no different.

Making continuous improvement processes stick

In order to establish a culture of improvement and learning in your organisation it is fundamental that the structures and practices that enable these activities are observed each day, every day.

Toyota has a mantra of “everyone, everyday”. This means that all people are enabled and expected to participate in continuous improvement activity as part of their daily work.

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Continuous improvement by its very nature must be an ongoing activity and like any habit or skill development must happen on a regular (daily) basis. We simply cannot develop the muscle memory required if we lack the discipline to practice every day – or multiple times per day. Like any practice routine it must happen regularly, it must happen following a particular form and must involve coaching and reflection to optimise the benefits.

In many organisations, Kaizen (change for the good) activity is sporadic and can often be months apart. On top of this key stakeholders are often excluded or not consulted during the planning process. This adds to the difficulties of not optimising or sustaining the potential gains from continuous improvement activity. If we were to pick up the guitar every now and again we are unlikely to strum our way successfully to “Stairway to Heaven” anytime soon.

If we are to become great lean learners and problem solvers then it is imperative that we practice continuous improvement every day and have a strong bias for practical action.

Changing daily habits requires consistency

Developing new habits requires a few things but ultimately it is about changing our behaviour – the way we do things. James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits” frames this so well when he talks about the three layers of behavioural change. The layers being:

  • Changing your outcomes – metrics and measures of success
  • Changing your process – habits, routines and systems
  • Changing your identity – your beliefs, your image, your judgements and biases

In many ways this also reflects Sinek’s ‘golden circle’ of “What, How and Why?”. The bottom line: we must have a clear sense of purpose and identity as a foundation for meaningful and sustainable behavioural change. Both as individuals and as organisations.

What this looks like practically in a lean organisation is that the habits of continuous improvement are practiced daily and are also practiced visually. Both of those things play to our strengths of repetition around a routine / method. They also reduce the barriers to entry by creating a workplace focussed around simple visual processes and metrics. The structure of daily tiered meetings that happen each day at the same time, following the same format, helps us to establish a process that fulfils our goals of learning, improvement and practical problem solving.

Culture through discipline

In summary, if we are to develop new, or refine our current, habits and way of doing things then there must be an intentional adjustment to a new way. New habits can only be formed through discipline and adherence to a structure that provides repetition on a regular (daily) basis. A culture of lean thinking does not happen overnight and it takes practice and perseverance around a simple yet sophisticated set of visual tools and principles.

However, as the benefits reveal themselves and confidence in the daily practice grow mindsets and attitudes begin to change. The ease and frequency with which we deploy continuous improvement accelerates – just like riding a bike!

The Entire C.I. Framework Should Support Daily Habits

Aligning ourselves, our teams, our processes, and our systems is key to sustaining daily habits. Lean tools like standardised problem solving techniques, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and a Tiered Daily Management process that supports the entire PDCA loop allow us to set and maintain effective routines. To achieve this, these tools shouldn’t be developed in isolation. We must consider how each adjacent process influences and supports those related to it ensuring workflow is optimise and supporting our daily efforts.

The illustration below demonstrates how we designed the TeamAssurance platform to avoid locally optimised, disconnected ‘Point Solutions’ (digital or analog) that can hinder your ability to effectively implement a continuous improvement mindset and maintain daily habits.

TeamAssurance Connected Systems Chart-Mar-29-2023-08-13-04-1837-PM

TeamAssurance supports many organisations in implementing daily habits through intuitive visual management tools. If you’re a business in need (or a consultant with clients in need) and you’d like to explore the opportunities that digital-aids to Lean tools provide contact us for a demonstration of the platform today.

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