The Secret to Sustainment

Abstract:Three challenges typically exist to sustaining change: underestimation of the psychological effort needed to establish new behavior, misunderstanding the tools and methods used to effect change, and the lack of management follow-through. Fairbanks Morse Engine sustains change by overcoming these challenges. It uses daily activities to promote behavior change in workers. Checklists, audits, and group problem solving are used to establish new operating norms. Leadership at Fairbanks Morse Engine takes an active role in change …

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Leadership. Leadership requires engagement -- you must be personally, continually, and deeply involved. Commitment. You must show and have "skin in the game."

You must be persistent. So persistent that you abandon all but the essential thought of short-term gain. Your focus as a leader is on your clearly defined vision of the future that you will purpose to create. And the unexpected or frustrations that come mean that you adjust as needed, but still, you repair to that vision. Short-term gains are essential, but they're part of your longer vision.

We must work to align three things: the mind, the emotions, and the path.

The mind is all the facts and statistics of why, for example, we should quit smoking, exercise more, wear our safety glasses, or get "lean."

The emotions however, perhaps the hardest part to effectively change, can trigger the shock to make change and can drive sustained motivation. Consider how, for example, a new baby can make you get up in the middle of the night and work hard so you have enough money to provide for him, whereas a single guy might have no problem sticking with an entry-level job to sustain his video game and energy drink habit.

The path is, what I like to say, "Make it easy for them."� In other words, a laid out map, process, or series of steps. You go to the buffet, and if I put the forks at the beginning of the line you'll pick them up there; if I put them at the end or at the table, you'll learn to get your silverware there instead.

If successful, the mind is "tricked"� into following habits.

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

See "The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande. I'm super sold -- fanatical perhaps? -- on checklists ... but they must be done right, and they must be sustained. That means they need a lot of thought and refinement -- they'll probably never be perfect the first time. I'm working on a total re-do of our Quality Manual. Checklists (and training) are important to the model.

--Tim Hill, 06-18-2014

Great article. Realizing the importance of following up on any continuous improvement project is essential to its success. I like the approach of some type of checklist in place, followed by management's audit. It's a great way to motivate associates to get involved with projects. This shows that management is supporting the drive toward lean, as well as the importance of sustainability.
--Shane Graham, 08-27-2011

This is one of the most useful and insightful articles on this topic that I've ever read. Has anyone used these strategies in the healthcare world?
--Vera Vanicek, 08-26-2011

Great article. It kept me engaged to the last sentence. Thanks for explaining the tools in a plain language. The graphs give a perspective that I was struggling to grasp.
--Marisa Frost, 08-26-2011

Yes, yes, yes... a million times YES!
This is pretty much what the Japanese do and have done for many years. They don't have as much in the psychological arena to deal with, so this is a good starting pattern for a western implementation.
My experience so far is the short term view to save BIG $$ all at once. After 15 years, we are still having kaizen events [What's wrong with this picture?] when we should be down to continuous improvement.
By the way, kaizen in Japan is slow continual improvement, whereas in the United States it is more of a blitzkrieg. Actually, it's all blitzkrieg [except at Fairbanks Morse Engine and, I'm sure, a few others - emphasis on the few].
I have seen $1M spent improving a process, and nothing was accomplished except that throughput was reduced and product cost increased - both significantly. This was a while back, and following today's LSS processes might avoida similar situation. But, in general, I have seen no major major process improvements that have amounted to anything; however, I have seen numerous small improvements that have made significant impacts.
The Toyota Production System (Taaichi Ohno) shies away from making major changes to existing processes but rather will wait and use the ideas in the next new development and take the time to hone and tune it to perfection.
--Rob Marquardt, 08-25-2011

Spot on with the need for sustained leadersip engagement. Expecting change without engaging to establish sustainment is like sending a Black Belt (BB) to perform a study and develop prioritized improvement opportunities while never planning to change a thing. It's disrespectful to the BB and does more harm for a leader's reputation than they know. Setting expectations and following up is fundamental to establishing long-lasting change. Thanks for the actual data and straight-forward logic that goes with it.
--Fritz Besch, 08-24-2011

Great article! The real-world statistics are compelling and very useful to us in similar improvement projects. The change-response over time (weeks) graph is particularly insightful, and the layered "auditing" approach sounds powerful and engaging. One comment: I think it may be more correctly called "layered monitoring" or "layered checking" (as in PDCA cycle) to distinguish from a true audit.

--Jon Fadely, 08-15-2011

I rate this article as a 5! This is one of the best articles that I have read on this topic!!
Great Job. Steve Coriddi LSSBB
--Steve Coriddi, 08-11-2011

--Nilay K Giri, 08-10-2011

Very good article. Continuous improvement is very time consuming, and this article helps us to keep in mind what can be done to maintain change.
--tom sheffrey, 08-10-2011

I think that sustaining an implementation is the hardest part of implementing LSS. This article provides some good ideas on how to succeed with LSS in the long run.
--Lisa Ritz, 08-10-2011

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