Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind have become so mainstream that the United Kingdom is looking at its first 24-hour coal-free span since the industrial revolution, and here in the US solar made up 39% of all electric capacity added to the grid in 2016.

Solar is a firmly established industry, but there’s always room for improvement. For example, finding qualified candidates to work in solar can be a challenge. According to a report by the Solar Training Network, “Over three quarters (77.6%) of all [solar] employers cite difficulty finding candidates with any training specific to the position, and a similar number (77.9%) report difficulty finding candidates with any relevant work experience.”

 

Creating a Quality Workforce

With the help of a workforce development grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce, Itek Energy is creating qualified employees by investing in workforce development training. Partnering with Impact Washington, Itek is in the process of a six-month intensive lean training for its entire workforce.

 In a statement issued by the Port of Bellingham, Washington Commerce Director Brian Bonlender is quoted as saying, “Workforce development grants are an effective tool for creating and retaining high-skill advanced manufacturing jobs that will keep Washington companies competitive in the global marketplace.”

 TWI Training, Itek EnergyImpact Washington Trainer Michael Schmich with Itek Employees

Continuous Improvement Process

A significant portion of Itek’s workforce training is centered on formalizing a continuous improvement process (CIP). Wayne Land, a Manufacturing Process Specialist at Itek Energy, has been working within continuous improvement models for 20 years. At the heart of CIP—also known as kaizen—is what he calls “people development”. CIP encourages workers to reflect on processes and make incremental steps on an ongoing basis to improve those processes.

 “It’s mostly listening,” says Land. “Instead of a manager going into the workspace and telling the workers what their problems are, you guide them through the identification process.” This leads to practical change, generated by employees who are invested in the process.

 “Giving people achievable goals makes a big difference,” explains Land. “You not only make a change, but you confirm that the change made a difference.”

 

Plan, Do, Check, Act

Although it was developed in a manufacturing setting, kaizen is a process that can be applied to any business model. The process encourages you to analyze your goal, identify the obstacles that prevent you from reaching the goal, tackle the first obstacle—then repeat. Whether it is streamlining your production line, increasing the efficiency of company meetings, or even organizing your pantry at home, continuous improvement is a path that helps you get where you want to be.

To implement a continuous improvement process in your organization, start with a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, or PDCA.

Plan: Establish your goal. Ask yourself and your team, “What is the target condition? What change can we make to reach that target?” Then make a plan to reach that goal.

Do: Implement the plan. Make the change and collect data for analysis.

Check: Look at the results you collected and see how they differ from your expected results. Did the change make a difference?

Act: If the change made a difference, establish that change as part of your processes. If it did not, go back to Plan.

 


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Photo credit: Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com


 

“Continuous” is the Keyword

Among the benefits of incorporating continuous improvement into your company’s processes is a healthier relationship with failure.

 If a PDCA cycle does not bring you closer to your target condition, is it a wasted effort? The answer is no. There is plenty to learn from not achieving your target. Given a failure, you are able to make a new plan and start over. Establishing a culture where employees are encouraged to implement improvements and feel empowered to learn from mistakes is the only way that continuous improvement can be sustainable.

“This is designed to never stop,” says Land. “If you are continuously attacking your top problem then you are continuously getting better. There will always be obstacles to overcome.”

Itek’s commitment to continuous improvement has given us a name for quality craftsmanship in building high-efficiency solar modules. As our company expands, we are continuing to build improvement into our processes. To learn more about how Itek can help you power your future, contact us.

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 Impact Washington Training.jpgImpact Washington Trainer Paul Hamacher with Itek employees

Kathryn Heltsley

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