(Views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author, a narration of his experience.)

In many ways, sustainment is the most important thing I teach. Yet, I have only one week to teach it after the very first kaizen event at a new client. For several years, I have used a leave-behind document that guides clients through the crucial daily activities they need to sustain. This is the first of two blogs that will be based on this sustainment document, with my hope that it will help readers to realize that having a written plan is crucial to instill the necessary habits to sustain benefits from continuous-improvement (CI) activities.

Why is a plan needed? The most obvious reason is that most companies fall short when it comes to sustainment. After the excitement of realizing things once thought impossible are not only possible, but are actually happening, people have to get back to work. Everyone has great intentions of sticking to the new routine, and indeed most people work hard to do so. But the everyday complexities and pressures of modern workplaces can cause an erosion of what has been gained. (While leadership support is essential for long-term sustainment of a CI culture, this blog and the next will focus on the tactical sustainment activities of a specific functional, department or process that has just finished a rapid-improvement event.)

The daily agenda during the week we teach sustainment provides a 30day plan for instilling sustainment. These are the nitty-gritty activities that hold together "the new routine." They vary by client and project, but they include activities such as:

Pacing to Customer Demand: Cells or processes need to work to the defined pace and documenting work-accomplishments and problems-at each paced interval (i.e., X units per hour, two hours, shift, or day) not only keeps the pace but also gives visibility into the operation so that operators and supervisors can see issues and address them immediately. Scheduling boards/sheets: These MUST be kept up to date for the predefined period, such as five days into the future, or maybe one day into the future, or even one shift into the future again, depending upon the type of business, product(s), customer(s), etc. If you want people to stick to the plan, then you have to give them a plan in the form of a standard work narrative that tells them who does what when.

One of the reasons why this is so important is because all inputs into a process must be working off the same plan and at the desired pace in order to keep waste from creeping back in. We all know what happens when materials are not ordered in time, or when the packaging cell has no idea they are about to be hit with a spike in flow-problems that beget more problems.

Auditing standard work: One of the most insidious enemies of sustainment is over-confidence. Always audit standard work. Auditing someone's work doesn't mean you think they are incapable of doing the work right; and by the way, thinking they are capable of always doing the work right is a mistake. The entire lean philosophy is based on the collective agreement that no one does everything right all time, especially if they are working in isolation. When you think about it this way, auditing becomes the hallmark of a no-blame culture because everyone admits upfront that they can't do their best work without the involvement of others.

A sustainment daily agenda could include other items based on tools such as 5S, and on systems, kaizen newspapers, SQDC or pre- and post-shift meetings.

What's most important is that the list be practiced again and again until the activities necessary for sustainment become entrenched in the daily routine.

It's easy for supervisors and managers to use the trite phrase "keep up the good work." What's more difficult is to guide people to what they need to do to indeed keep up the good work. It takes commitment to everyday activities, and this commitment starts with a plan.

About the Author:

Ken Van Winkle works as the Sr. Management Consultant at TBM Consulting Group.

This article was originally published in the Stitch Times magazine, August, 2012.