3 Steps to Ongoing Process Improvements

Over the last few months we have talked about the importance of using actionable data, one way that leading companies have increased profitability (State of the Union and Profitability), and how to increase the sense of urgency in your company (Nine Steps to Create a Culture of Urgency).
In this blog we will talk about how to act on measurements to improve processes.
Measuring Actionable Data

Too often the data collected in operations is not actionable. For example, many companies gather and report print volumes. But is print volume actionable data? By definition, actionable data means you can act on the data and then determine if that change helped or hurt production.
To find out if your data is actionable think about this: if your measurement goes up or down over time, what would that mean and how would you act on the data?
For example, if you measured print volumes over 9 months and
noticed a trend of increasing volume, what would that mean?
You might conclude that your sales people are selling more or that business conditions have improved. Your action could be to buy another press. However, on the flip side, it could also mean that staff are making mistakes and throwing away more paper, which would lead to a very different action.
In this case, better data would be a ratio of volume-to-waste, which would result in better decisions.
Root Cause Analysis
Identifying incorrect root causes can lead companies down unproductive solutions. Companies often point to the prepress department as the reason for pressroom mistakes and then create an inspection process to address the problem. If this is the wrong root cause, this inspection process can grow and become an over-inspection process. In this example, the underlying root cause may very well have been poor file preparation by customers.
In general there are just a few possible root causes:

  • Production staff were not properly trained
  • Issues in equipment or maintenance
  • Quality control issues such as a lack of calibration or inspection
  • Error-prone processes (customer submitted files), pain points or bottlenecks, and/or
  • A lack of critical software or hardware


There are many reasons why companies don’t take action. Even companies that gather good data and identify accurate root causes don’t always act on it. In my opinion, taking action is based on two critical factors: having a clear set of priorities and a sense of urgency. Companies that have clear priorities (based on measurements) and a sense of urgency take action.
Wondering how well your company measures up to leaders who have mastered these three steps? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • What data are we measuring in operations?
  • If those numbers go up or down, what does that mean and what is the resulting action?
  • When was the last time we acted on those numbers?
  • If we are not acting on the data, then why are we measuring it?

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