By: Pete Schmidt, Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center

Throughout my life, I have tried to live by one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain that says, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Growing up, I always believed there were better ways of doing things and wanted to challenge the status quo.
After visiting hundreds of companies across the nation, one thing I have consistently observed among successful companies is they have less resistance to change compared to those that think they have their processes under control and are working at their highest efficiency.
I don’t believe in changing things for the sake of change, but I believe there is always a better way of doing things that should be discovered. Changing processes should start with thinking things out based on education, experience and experimentation before implementation. In my experience working with companies, most want proof that something will work before trying a new idea. However, a lot of our knowledge is anecdotal rather than empirical, relying on “gut feelings” rather than hard data. Some of these instincts are valuable and can inspire useful improvements going forward. If it helps, it should be implemented.
Additionally, many believe improvements must be drastic. Everyone is looking for the quick, huge improvement to overhaul their company, but those aren’t always possible or real. Take weight loss, for example. Experts agree that slow, steady lifestyle changes will keep weight off more effectively than any radical weight loss program could. Yet, people generally focus on implementing the latter, then are disappointed with the results. The same applies to making improvements in manufacturing – careful, targeted changes implemented over time will lead to impressive, sustained results down the road.
Perhaps most importantly, assembling teams is an essential part of the continuous improvement cycle. The more people looking at an opportunity, the more likely an idea for improvement is to be identified. Have you ever worked on a project for hours struggling to find a solution, only to have someone walk by and quickly suggest the perfect answer you were missing all along? Nobody can see everything or know everything, so having a team approach can greatly enhance the continuous improvement process.
When I received my Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training nearly 20 years ago, it brought even more clarity to my perspective of problem solving and continuous improvement.  Although I have not always succeeded with my ideas of change, I would like to believe that over time, the companies I have touched have become better using the ideas and suggestions on which we’ve collaborated.
Change done effectively will inevitably make your organization stronger in the long run. Do not fear change – embrace it for the good it can do for your organization. Much like Frank Herbert wrote in his novel Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing, only I will remain.”

Pete Schmidt, Business Solutions Manager
Pete Schmidt is a Business Solutions Manager at The Center. Operating directly out of Sterling Heights, Pete provides services and support to small manufacturers in the area to enable them to compete, grow and prosper.