Original Date: 07/21/2003
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : Continuous Improvement Program
Electric Boat Corporation, Quonset Point Facility’s management views continuous improvement as one of its critical success factors. Top management actively endorses and supports a wide variety of team-based activities focused on utilizing the “wealth and experience” of its employees to eliminate waste from all business processes.
Process improvements are small changes that put employees’ ideas into action and result in enrichment for the company. In the past, Electric Boat Corporation, Quonset Point Facility (EBQP) attempted to improve its business base through a variety of techniques including Quality Circles, Suggestion and Recognition programs, and Best Practice teams. Despite their general success, these techniques were often segmented and compartmentalized. Seeking a more effective way to capitalize on process improvements, EBQP developed the Process Improvement Program (PIP) in November 1997.
PIP is a comprehensive and integrated program, which focuses on the capabilities, experience, and ideas of the workforce for implementing process improvements. Key to this program is Process Improvement Teams, which are formed within and across 11 functional areas. This approach promotes participation by employees, enhances communication, and limits discord by understanding the value of individual contributions. The teams are comprised of five to six hourly and salary employees, depending on the functional area. The teams are responsible for identifying problems, proposing solutions, and determining drivers for improvement. PIP provides additional services through a staff administrator and up to 20 facilitators who assist the teams, benchmark PIP methods and techniques, and provide specialized assistance and training as needed for problem-solving and goal-setting processes. PIP employs a Process Improvement Template, an easy-to-use tool format that processes improvements into standardized categories (e.g., area(s), section(s), concern, action, status, acceptance date, and implementation date). This Microsoft Access-based system provides real-time access enabling management to view, track, and analyze process improvements. The system also features search capabilities and a report generator allowing the creation of reports based on established parameters (e.g., functional area, types of change, department, shift, and/or incentive for improvement). Using the Microsoft PowerPoint link, the templates and reports can be viewed or downloaded for team meetings and management briefings.
The program continues to grow and expand. Currently, it is known as the Continuous Improvement Program (CIP). In recent years, Lean Manufacturing principles were incorporated into the program. Training was provided through Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the tracking system was modified to include various forms of Lean projects. The Access database is being converted to an Oracle database and will reside on the company’s Intranet so Continuous Improvement (CI) information will be available to all General Dynamics operating divisions. Because of the growth in these types of projects, a full-time process analyst has been added to the staff. EBQP is now training selected team members in Six Sigma methods to further enhance and expand the program.
The most important element to the CIP’s success is employee participation, which the company defines as an employee being a member of one or more teams within a one-year period. The individual who suggests the CI project is either responsible for its implementation or is a key participant on the CI team that takes it to conclusion. In 1998, employee participation in PIP was almost 45%. Last year, the company achieved a participation rate of 80%, accepting 668 new improvement ideas and successfully completing 653. EBQP’s database now contains more than 3,500 improvement ideas generated by team members, and the program continues to expand with 85% employee participation and 75% implementation rate goals for the current year.
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