Seven signs a supplier is not effective at continuous improvement

A supplier may claim to do continuous improvement. The supplier may sincerely think they are improving, when often they are just continually fixing problems and not addressing root causes, and are just running in place (if not losing ground). Most suppliers do want to improve, but some don’t really know how to make lasting improvement. Some just want to give the impression that they are improving, even if they’re not. Here are seven signs a supplier is not effective at continuous improvement:

  1. The supplier holds meetings that are “death by meeting” variety, with no agenda, one person talking endlessly and with everyone either slumped over and zoned out or stealthily checking their smart phones under the table. It takes meetings to make continuous improvement really happen. And if a company can’t run a good, productive meeting, continuous improvement efforts will be doomed.
  2. They claim to have implemented Lean. To them, Lean means that they painted some lines on the floor and put up some tool boards that are now empty with the outlines of tools remaining. Yeah, we did Lean.
  3. Employees are expected to know instinctively how to do continuous improvement, but are not trained to do even simple problem solving. This means that they guess at the root causes of problems and often try to fix symptoms, not the actual problems.
  4. The supplier tries to address too much at once, thereby addressing nothing effectively. They should be putting a laser focus on a list of the top 2-3 things that the company is focusing on, not dozens of “key strategic” initiatives.
  5. The company uses the popcorn approach to continuous improvement. Lots of unrelated projects popping all over the company and supposedly saving money, but no real sustainable change unified by a common vision and strategy.
  6. Buzzword bingo and the flavor of the month mentality. Last year it was Lean. This year it’s Lean Six Sigma. Next year it’ll be Operational Excellence. If management is suffering from ADD or follow the new shiny object mentality, employees will not engage and will lie low and wait for the initiative to blow over.
  7. Metrics showing progress are not collected and readily available to all stakeholders.

A continuous improvement culture and mentality should be obvious to the casual observer. It’s more than window dressing. The real proof and the real payback is in results. If you’re not improving, you’re probably in decline.

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