This article is contributed by guest writer, John Compton, Principle, Compton & Associates, and long-time supporter of the Continuous Improvement Conference.

“In my 40 years of attending and presenting at a variety of conferences, I’ve yet to find a conference where the openness and sharing equals that which occurs at the CI Conference.”

It’s no surprise to me that we are preparing to hold the 25th annual Continuous Improvement Conference. Why the longevity? It’s simple: the people and companies attending over the years have greatly benefitted from the learning and sharing that occur every year at this conference.

No Secrets among Friends

From the beginning, the purpose of the conference was to provide a venue for people to learn about quality improvement and share their experiences in applying emerging concepts and tools within the printing industry. In fact, in my 40 years of attending and presenting at a variety of conferences, I’ve yet to find a conference where the openness equals that which occurs at the CI Conference. In the various case studies offered each year, companies voluntarily present methods and techniques they use to significantly improve quality and reduce costs and lead time, often with direct competitors sitting in the audience. Then they entertain specific questions on how they achieved their improvements and offer specific answers. It’s safe to say there are no secrets at this conference!

 Will Work for Quality

How can this happen when there is so much competition in our industry? Again, I think the answer is quite simple: while there are no secrets on how to achieve a more rapid rate of improvement, it’s clear that it’s not easy to do. (There is a valuable CI knowledge quiz if you want to find your knowledge gaps.) Whether it’s total quality, six sigma, ISO 9000, Lean manufacturing, or any of the other approaches, it’s hard work. And like anything that’s hard, you must have a reason to sweat for it. The print companies presenting their case studies at this conference detail just how hard it is to achieve and sustain improvement in lead times, waste reduction, and operating costs. So while the concepts, methods, and results are laid out for attendees to see, each company must provide its own energy, desire, and resources for a successful CI journey. In short, each must have a good reason to sweat for it. Without it, the methods produce limited, short-term results.

 Looking Back and Looking Forward

I’ve attended and presented at 23 of the 24 conferences held so far, and as I look back over the 25-year history, I see how far this event—and our industry—have come:

  • Initially, those attending the early conferences were primarily QC managers and supervisors. Quality had been delegated to a single department, and the focus was primarily on the product. The principle quality method was visual inspection for color, registration and fit, and a variety of physical defects. We were just learning about the benefits of process control in addition to product control as an improvement approach. Today it’s well established that if you want the right product or outcome, you have to have the right process. Thus, the focus on process improvement and the methods and strategies of achieving it play a dominant role in the conference today.
  • The first few years saw a heavy focus on the application of statistical process control with its specific use in the pressroom. The focus was on variation reduction to achieve greater consistency and less waste. Today, the conference emphasizes the idea of operational excellence and the broad application of improvement methods to all of the critical processes in the value stream. As a result, we now see owners, presidents, vice-presidents, general managers, production managers, and other senior managers regularly attending the conference.
  • In the 1980s quality was seen as primarily a technical issue with a focus on product control. Fortunately, our thinking has broadened. Today we understand that quality and continuous improvement are primarily a management issues and that the role of all employees and the brainpower they possess must be tapped and applied if we are to improve faster than our competitors.

Finally, I believe 2014 attendees understand that quality is a business issue, one that cannot be delegated to a single manager or department. Our value streams cross many departments, and everyone owns a piece of the waste, lead time, and costs they produce. Companies who realize this recognize that everyone needs to understand how to improve their processes and work on it every day.

Yes, the CI Conference truly is the annual event that keeps on giving—giving detailed insight and guidance on how to achieve a more rapid rate of improvement. When printing companies merge that information with their own energy and drive to improve, the results can be outstanding!

How do you see this conference evolving in the coming years? Feel free to share your ideas in the comment section!

For more information on continuous improvement topics, access a library of Lean resources, including the free Continuous Improvement Quiz where you can immediately gauge your CI knowledge.

Register today for the 2014 Continuous Improvement Conference, March 30–April 2, at The Fairmont Hotel, Dallas, TX. Register before February 21, 2014, and receive a copy of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work by Paul Marciano.