How many times have you heard that change is difficult? I know I have heard it and experienced it frequently. It seems the older your firm is, the more difficult it is to make changes. Sometimes even a minor change, which benefits everyone involved, can wreak havoc with daily operations. It is interesting to really look at your operation and see how many things you are doing because you have always done it that way.

An example in our company is for years we have made a rolodex card for each new job with name, address, and equipment. These cards followed the job folder until the job was completed. The cards were then neatly filed - never to be touched again. We think that many years ago, before our computer system, the cards were used for some purpose, but now nobody remembers what that purpose was. So over the years we have made thousands of cards that serve actually no purpose just because at one time years ago we used them for something.

But now comes the interesting part. I decided to eliminate the cards and five people were all concerned as to why folders were coming through with no cards, even though they never used them. Change is hard.

Seeing this one small thing reminded me of just how important it is for us to incorporate change in our businesses on a regular basis. We need to be continually looking at every phase of our operation to see where we can make changes that will achieve savings. Not all of these changes will result in large savings, but when added up they can have a significant affect on your bottom line.


I had an opportunity recently to see first hand how the continual improvement process will allow you to achieve greatly improved results. The New Horizons Foundation, a sheet metal initiative founded by SMACNA, is studying how change can improve an organization. The foundation's leadership was recently invited by Lennox Industries to visit Lennox's commercial plant in Stuttgart, Arkansas. In this plant change is a way of life. Lennox began incorporating changes into their corporate lifestyle back in 1999. They utilize ideas brought to this country by Toyota which feature a process known as Kaizen.

The basic concept is that Kaizen is a process of continual improvement. As implemented by Lennox, it means looking at every part of every operation from purchasing to manufacturing and everything in between. The system includes utilizing members of management as well as employees who are actually on the assembly lines.

This group meets for a week reworking some phase of an operation. They begin by accumulating information about the current process. This means everything from counting steps between processes, measuring distances between various machines, timing each part of the particular operation, and determining the current output of the operation. During the week the group agrees on methods to improve the process and takes action right then to move machines, add storage or material, handling carts, or whatever is necessary to complete the improvement. The goal is that by the end of the week the changes desired are decided upon and completed.

Typically it is not possible to complete every step of the change within the week. When that happens a sheet is prepared of the outstanding items with a person assigned to be responsible for each item's completion. The sheet is then posted on a board outside the office of the overall manager of the plant. It remains there in plain view until all items are completed.

While for each of us in our businesses an entire week on each process may be long, the point is not the time. The point is to walk through your facility and spend some time looking at everything you do - both in the shop as well as the office. And then get other people involved in each of the processes and determine what you can do to make changes to improve those processes.

And while change is hard, I think you will find that when presented properly, and especially including some of the people directly involved in the process, the change will actually be an exciting new development for your company.

Butch Welsch, Guest Columnist, Owner of Welsch Heating & Cooling, St. Louis,

Publication date: 07/31/2006