from R&D Innovator Volume 1, Number 5
Continuous Improvement in
is president of Daniel Penn Associates, a management consulting
firm based in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
received a phone call soon after going out on my own as a
management consultant specializing in productivity improvement.
The caller was an R&D manager for a mid-size paint specialty
company. (At the
time, I knew nothing about continuous methods of quality
improvement in R&D.)
your ad in the Sunday business supplement.
I have a question: How
can you monitor or improve productivity in a research department?
Isn't research, by definition, uncontrollable?"
Thinking amazingly fast, I replied, "Yeah,
what I thought, but we're not getting the kinds of results in new
product development my company's used to—at least for the
dollars we're spending. I'm
feeling some heat from above."
"What kind of monitoring devices are you using to see
where your research projects stand against the budget and the
completion schedule?" "Not
many, except for monthly allocation of hours to whichever projects
the people are working on. We
really don't benchmark ourselves against any time frame.
Never have— just report against budgeted dollars."
also told me he sometimes needed to justify exceeding the budget
to management. Occasionally
excessive personnel turnover or an obvious setback in a particular
experiment was to blame. But
he had to grope for excuses more than he wanted.
talked for a while and, although I didn't think I could generate
any billing from him (what did I know about R&D?), I suggested
he ask his people to prepare a step-by-step list of what they
expected each project to entail.
This rudimentary plan would help him hold his department at
least loosely accountable. We
said goodbye and, ever the excellent salesman, I never followed up
later, my company began teaching what is currently called CIP
(Continuous Improvement Process) to clients.
The goal of CIP is to have employees and all levels of
management constantly evaluate their methods to look for better
is accomplished in these steps:
Introduce the process to the people in the R&D
department and lay the groundwork for their involvement with a
brief training session. Emphasize that nothing is sacred and that the goal of
examining current procedures is to make everyone's life easier.
Select an ongoing project in the department as a pilot test
for CIP. Analyze
existing procedures for that project with a low-tech process
called a "Brown Paper."
The name derives from the use of brown wrapping paper upon
which are pasted, in sequence, all documents and reports used for
the project. (There's
no need for entire reports, the tables of contents may suffice.)
Begin the Brown Paper by assigning two or three members
from the pilot group to visually lay out current activity for a
particular project. Examine similar past and present projects to reconstruct the
necessary effort. Include,
if available, the work hours spent and the time frame for each
logical step. If
possible, check actual times versus time frames originally planned
for these steps.
The participants in step 3 give a presentation ("walk
through" the Brown Paper) to researchers, assistants, and,
yes, the clerical help. (Clerical
and other non-technical employees often have a better overview of
what's going right or wrong than the "professionals,"
probably because people who are engrossed in a project tend to
focus too narrowly.) Invariably,
ideas will begin to flow. "Why
on earth are we doing it this way?"
"Where is the verification step?"
"We don't have to fill out this data report
that the Brown Paper is a working document.
Then hang it on a wall in a conspicuous place and invite
people to plaster it with ideas on Post-it notes as soon as the
ideas strike. Leave
the Brown Paper up for about a week to give everyone time to look
it over and make suggestions.
The participants transcribe suggestions from the Brown
Paper onto a blackboard. Try
to figure out logical points to update actual progress against the
project sequences in terms of dollars, work hours, time frame, or
whatever makes sense to track.
Establish a steering committee for the CIP program with one
or two representatives from each level in the hierarchy. The
normal complement is between 5 and 7 people; members should be
committee's functions are to:
The steering committee develops a monitoring device (a
simple spreadsheet will do) to break the assigned initiative(s)
into a schedule for development.
Next to each development step or "action item,"
list the responsible team member and target dates for testing the
initiative, implementing the changes into the normal project
procedures, and writing final documentation.
After the initiatives have been tested, update the Brown
Paper with the changes and re-title it "The Ideal
it's a good idea to start over with a new sheet of paper because,
if things are going right, the old sheet will be dog-eared,
scribbled over, and generally messed up.
display the Brown Paper for review by the department, as in step
4. Employees will
begin to contribute additional ideas and corrections as they see
what they have developed to this point.
Adapt the new procedures and control methods in a
After the new procedures are tested, the participants
report to the steering committee and the group on how the process
worked. The steering
committee will then develop a plan for review by top management.
If approved, CIP can be expanded to other department
members and projects.
my experience, I would expect that the improvements emanating from
this pilot exercise will continue to grow.
The explanation is pretty simple:
Continuous review of a project by the people working on it
forces them to find better methods. They have the experience of collaborating to design and test
corrective action and know they are expected to critically examine
their procedures. Finally,
they know their ideas will be respected.
this methodology is expanded to all areas, continuous improvement
is practically assured because few activities will escape scrutiny
by employees who know they have the power to effect change when
beauty of CIP is not only the normal but substantial improvements
in productivity you can expect from this sort of process review,
but also its promotion of total employee involvement.
you might never reach the ideal process, part of the fun is in the
effort, and part of the reward is having everyone strive in
wish that guy from the paint company would call me back.
Now I could really help him.