Process Improvement Strategies

You can use the process improvement strategies on this page to reduce waste, injuries, errors, equipment failures, and engagement challenges. Fortunately, I have been able to test them all out over the years.

In fact, I have never worked for a company that did not have some form of formal process improvement system in place. I have been able to experience additional process improvement strategies during my 20+ years of service as an Examiner for the national Baldrige Performance Excellence Award

If you have questions about any of these prices improvement strategies, please contact me. I think you can benefit from learning about, and experimenting with, all of them. I know that I learn something each time I use one of them.

LEARN MORE about how my ‘Best Practices in Mistake Proofing and Corrective Action Writing’ workshop can help you escape reactive world for good!

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A Brief History of Process Improvement

In general, a push for better process quality began with Shewhart back in the 1920s. W. Edwards Deming picked up on his statistical process control work and taught it to the Japanese following World War II. At that time, few executives would listen to him in the United States,  The success of the Toyota Production System (real lean process improvement) in Japan inspired the Total Quality Movement in the United States in the early 1980s. TQM transitioned into re-engineering to lead off the 1990s. Six sigma process improvement systems were both in use and being refined by General Electric, Allied Signal, and Motorola. Prior to 2002 or so, six sigma process improvement certifications had yet to become mainstream. Mikel Harry, among others, helped change all of that.

At the start of the 21st century, consultants from the successful six sigma companies began to develop and sell ‘public’ six sigma certifications. Jack Welch at General Electric further fueled the use of ‘six sigma’ as an improvement strategy and process. At the same time, lean process improvement strategies were emerging as options for use. By 2010, use of the two process improvement strategies had morphed into lean six sigma, in most cases. I keep them separate here simply because one (six sigma) is really a measure of process quality. The other is a set of process improvement strategies.

Team-Based Process Improvement Strategies

Work teams are at the heart of what we do here at Great Systems. I was raised on employee involvement, you might say. It was becoming a popular business improvement strategy when I entered the work world in 1981. During the next 15 years, participative management came to flourish in multiple forms, such as quality circles and self-directed work teams. Many organizations taught work team facilitation skills to their leaders, and group dynamics skills to all staff, in the 1990s.

I learned tons during this time, and I was able to set up and experiment with different team infrastructures. I was also fortunate to serve as a national leader for the Association for Quality and Participation during much of this time. This involvement connected me even more closely with best practice team-based process improvement strategies. All organizations need effective work teams to drive process excellence, improve through innovative projects, and support highly engaged, collaborative strategic support.

Root Cause Analysis Improvement Strategies

As with other process improvement tools, root cause analysis has changed over the past fifty or so years. It all began with the 5 Why’s and fishbone, or Ishikawa, diagrams. Today, specialized root cause analysis approaches like TapRooT® and other exist.

Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement Strategies

I will never forget sitting at the table at an Association for Quality and Participation leadership meeting 20 years ago. The discussion centered around a rumor that private six sigma certifications were about to go public. Consultants from within the Six Sigma Big Three – Allied Signal, Motorola, and General Electric – were going to share their proven certification formulas. We had to decide if we should jump on the bandwagon. We didn’t, but that did not stop the 21st century Six Sigma wave in the process improvement world.

Before then, six sigma was a measure of quality. I knew about the concept from my studies of Bob Galvin’s work at Motorola. Six sigma became more than a measure a variation after that. It became ‘3.4 defects per million opportunities.’ The six sigma process improvement strategy worked at the Big Three because it included a very supportive infrastructure. This was something few quality circles had previously. Plus, their approach required teams to use a structured project selection approach. This is not how most practice six sigma today. However, that is where the roots of today’s programs lie.

I was a lean thinker before I learned about the Toyota Production System. However, my studies of the work of Toyoda, Shingo, Ishikawa, and Ohno only further stoked the process improvement fire ignited by my industrial engineering degree. Industrial engineering, sound ergonomics, and human engineering are all a part of the lean six sigma process improvement strategy set. Plus, there are other great tools in the tool box.

More Process Improvement Strategies

You can find additional pages on this site with a process improvement focus.

If you would like more information about the process improvement strategies and tools I offer, please send me an e-mail at

Keep improving!

Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

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