Keywords: continuous improvement, kaizen, TPM, total productive maintenance, improvement groups, motivation, teamwork, communication, small groups, manufacturing firms, SKF, Sweden
Key factors in small group improvement work: an empirical study at SKF
A common approach in continuous improvement programmes in manufacturing firms is that the bulk of the improvement activities is performed by small groups of shop-floor operators. The performance of these groups consequently is of great importance for the overall success of continuous improvement initiatives. Earlier research has among other things pointed out the importance of motivation, communication and leadership support for the work of these groups. However, there is still a lack of empirical studies of these factors in terms of their relative impact on performance and their inter-relationships. This paper addresses these issues based on an investigation of small improvement groups at three SKF factories in Sweden. Based on a combination of participatory studies, interviews and a survey to the leaders of the improvement groups, it was found that a key problem for improvement activities is motivation and teamwork, and that what characterises high-performing groups is their information-sharing and communication behaviours. This study also showed that other important factors to consider for this type of improvement work are goal-setting and feedback, as well as management support, both in terms of direct leadership in the improvement groups and in terms of support from other management levels, leading to a number of managerial implications.