10 Tips For A Successful Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement is the ongoing effort of engaged employees and improvement teams to improve information, materials, products, services or processes. These efforts generally seek small step “incremental” improvement over time or larger quick “breakthrough” improvement and change to improve customer value and reduce non value adding activity thus reducing costs, increasing delivery velocity and remaining competitive or relative in a changing global environment.

Tip 1: Recognize the problem. For most organizations, a change in behavior does not come naturally. Though one might think that continuous improvement would be a natural mind set for an organization implementing project portfolio management, in reality few organizations have a culture of continuous not to mention processes or best practices to facilitate it. Sure, lessons learned are documented as part of project closing, but they are almost always filed away and forgotten rather than acted upon. The first step in establishing a continuous improvement mind set is to recognize the problem. That is, recognize the fact that your organization does not have or could do quite better exhibiting a continuous improvement mind set.

Tip 2: Establish an enduring culture. For continuous improvement to work, there must be a relentless focus on and commitment to getting things right. Adaptability and an action oriented leadership team are inherent components of a continuous improvement culture. Resistance to change exists in all organizations to a degree and it must be recognized for what it is, an impediment to improvement.

Tip 3: Think Kaizen and Cross the Chasm. Many people advocate Kaizen oriented thinking and behavior where continual small, incremental improvements provide tremendous benefits in performance and end results achieved over time. Others advocate a Crossing the Chasm mind set where drastic change is introduced completely replacing inefficient execution rather than slightly improving upon it. In a continuous improvement culture, there is room for both approaches. And often, after achieving the mega change that is made possible when Crossing the Chasm improvement initiatives are implemented, a Kaizen mind set is required to refine, sustain, and continually improve upon such change.

Tip 4: Facilitate process-centric thinking. Process-centric thinking does not have to be overly complex. Sometimes, all it takes is a thoughtful examination to uncover significant areas for improvement. Rather than tolerating mistakes and repeat errors, facilitate process-centric thinking to continually improve, correct, and overcome execution difficulties.

Tip 5: Educate the workplace. Like any other business strategy, ongoing education of the workplace is critical in establishing awareness, developing skills, and institutionalizing the needed mindset and behaviors to bring about effective change. It is no different with Continuous Improvement. Expect and overcome resistance to change with ongoing training, reinforcement of expected behaviors, and recognition of those who are learning and doing.

Tip 6: Ensure a penalty-free exchange of ideas. In many organizations, expressing one’s opinion on how to do things better may not necessarily be a welcomed activity. Management can feel threatened or pressured to act resulting in immediate resistances. And, those expressing ideas may be viewed as complainers or trouble makers. In such an environment, it doesn’t take long for the potential risks of making a suggestion to stifle enthusiasm and participation in improvement oriented thinking. Ensuring a penalty-free exchange of ideas is beneficial to both the giver and the receiver of new ideas and approaches and will ensure a safe two way exchange of thoughts and ideas.

Tip 7: Use a consistent approach for projects. A consistent and structured approach for project identification and execution will provide the organization with the ability to identify, select, and manage continuous improvement projects. The continuous improvement project process should also provide post-closing process steps to continually refine the improvement project methodology and to act upon the lessons learn from the project effort.

Tip 8: Measure performance. It is not possible to improve what is not measured. Determine in advance the approach and techniques to be used in measurements. Scorecards can be useful to monitor the key performance indicators of processes that support capability and performance.

Tip 9: Communication planning. Ensure regular communications to foster collaborative interactions among leaders, stakeholders, and practitioners at all levels. Take advantage of communications techniques appropriate for the information being conveyed. Where needed, schedule face to face meetings and where not needed, use the communication and collaboration tools and capabilities of the enterprise to keep all members updated and involved.

Tip 10: Establish core values. Establish the core values that comprise the continuous improvement culture such as a focus on supporting the customer, teamwork throughout the extended enterprise, receptivity to evolving continuous improvement concepts and tools. These core values will create a sense of belonging and a common vision for all involved.

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