Change happens. Every business environment requires continuously changing strategies, processes, tools and skills. Implementing a Continuous Improvement program is one way a company can harness their response to change and create competitive advantage. As companies launch Continuous Improvement programs, they need to have a plan. Effective programs require the following 5 elements leading to successful and sustainable efforts.
- Align continuous improvement with strategic objectives: Continuous improvement should not be considered a standalone initiative or self-contained goal; it must align with strategic objectives and impact them. When launching a Continuous Improvement program, aim to make an impact quickly for credibility and momentum. Pick your battles and don’t try to tackle all objectives at once. Always use strategic objectives and the Business Hierarchy of Needs® as the litmus test for deciding if something should be done and how it should be done.
- Don’t overdo process excellence at the outset: This is an evolutionary process and you need to understand the base you are operating from. Most organizations don’t have the skills or resources to launch a major Continuous Improvement program. After aligning the Continuous Improvement program, the company needs to start small and gain some momentum by working on projects that deal with strategic and operating gaps. Projects addressing gaps will have high visibility and high impact. Try doing projects in every functional area utilizing the process owners and key influencers so that people know what to expect and how to deal with continuous improvement. Remember Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) on your continuous improvement roadmap. Our continuous improvement tool with the biggest impact is Value Stream Mapping.
- Integrate continuous improvement into a culture of strategic execution: Continuous improvement and change management go hand in hand as shown below. There is prep work to be done in order to create the basis for sustaining a program that is designed to support the long term needs of the company. High performance cultures require a clear strategy. Clarify your vision, mission and values, and set objectives throughout the organization. WORK on your culture and communicate, communicate, communicate! It is important to remember that the organization is a very important consideration for continuous improvement. They need to have the right direction, the right tools and the right support.
- Blend the best practices from the different methodologies: Focusing on one methodology for continuous improvement can limit progress, diminish innovation and restrain the organization’s ability to realize its full continuous improvement potential. Use the best tool for the activity picking from Six Sigma, Lean, Kaizen, Value Stream Mapping, Business Process Re-engineering, and other techniques to deliver results. It is important to understand the tools that are required for each type of project. More often than not, Kaizen or Value Stream Mapping will be the very first tool you use to implement your quick successes. But whatever you do, deliver training on tools that are required for your project just-in-time, so the training immediately delivers value and isn’t wasted.
- Focus on data, not emotions: No more “We have always done it that way”. Embrace the discipline of the process and the rigor of data-driven decisions. Emphasize measures and metrics. Hold people accountable. This will become your new culture. Remember that the company’s strategy and data are the only things used to justify projects and measure their success.
Your Current State:
The first step to institute any change is to determine where you stand in terms of gaps: strategic, operational and organizational. A good benchmark framework to identify those gaps is Group50’s Business Hierarchy of Needs®.
Following a framework helps focus continuous improvement programs and change management. Since continuous improvement drives long term change, there are a series of steps required in the planning and implementation of a Continuous Improvement program. They consist of the following activities:
- Continuous Improvement Assessment will provide you with an understanding of the operating challenges a Continuous Improvement program will face.
- Organizational Assessment will provide insight, the appropriate functional design, and the skillsets required to successfully implement and sustain a Continuous Improvement program.
- Making the Case requires a business case that demonstrates the objectives, expected outcomes, and ROI.
- Planning and Implementation requires creating a project, training, and objectives roadmap that sequentially builds the program in support of the company’s strategic objectives. Always provide JIT training to your people as projects require it. If you are thinking about creating Master Blackbelts as part of your program, Group50® has developed a well received Master Black Belt training program that moves the strategic needle at the same time.
- Sustaining a Continuous Improvement Program requires a strategy on how the program will be integrated into the cultural fabric of the company and all of its stakeholders. Focusing on significant projects will allow people to see the positive impact of the results and help with sustainability.
We have seen a lot of programs come and go. That result is usually caused by a lack of continuous improvement discipline throughout the organization, which causes senior management to lose interest because the Continuous Improvement program’s activities don’t move the strategic needle. Everyone in the organization needs to see how much of an impact a continuous improvement project has made on the business. Do not forget to focus on the intersection of People, Process, Information Technology and Cobotics and don’t start a program if you aren’t willing to do the upfront planning and make it part of creating a culture of strategic execution.
Group50® has implemented continuous improvement programs in many companies ranging from Fortune 50 to small privately held ones. There is a process and we can share it with you as part of the first step in your continuous improvement journey, evaluating your existing program or redirecting and invigorating it.
Check out all articles on Driving Continuous Improvement:
- Five Things You Need To Do To Drive Continuous Improvement – Introduction
- Part I – Five Things You Need To Do To Drive Continuous Improvement – Alignment To Strategy
- Part II – Five Things You Need To Do To Drive Continuous Improvement – Do Not Overdue At The Outset
- Part III – Five Things You Need To Do To Drive Continuous Improvement – Creating A Culture Of Strategic Execution
- Part IV – Five Things You Need To Do To Drive Continuous Improvement – Best Practices
- Part V – Five Things You Need To Do To Drive Continuous Improvement – Tools And Data
- Utilizing Continuous Improvement Tools At The Business Level
- Creating the Business Case For A Continuous Improvement Program Workshop
- Additional articles on Continuous Improvement in Group50’s blog
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About the Author: Jim Gitney is the CEO and Founder of Group50® Consulting, and author of “Strategy Realized – The Business Hierarchy of Needs®”, a book focused on the use of Continuous Improvement tools and frameworks for developing and implementing strategy (Clink on the picture to find out more about the book and acquire a copy). He works with companies to significantly improve their performance by leveraging people, process and technology to implement a company’s strategic plan. In 2013, he created Group50’s Business Hierarchy of Needs® change management framework, a fundamental operating guide to senior leadership teams, and was granted a trademark in 2015. He has held C-suite and Board positions in large and small manufacturing companies. He was a member of GE’s Quality Council, part of the team that developed and implemented Black & Decker’s global Total Quality Management (TQM) program, has led or participated in over 125 Kaizen events and is considered a subject matter expert in Continuous Improvement. Group50® consists of consultants from every functional discipline who have spent their careers in corporate America developing strategic plans and rolling up their shirt sleeves to get it done.
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