When it comes to Continuous Improvement, One Size Does Not Fit All

By: Shane Wentz

Shane Wentz, the Co-owner of A Change in Latitude Consulting, has joined us to share his insights into continuous improvement and why all organizations should tailor their transformation program to the unique characteristics of their business. Read Shane’s article below to find out more.

"My son is almost five now and makes me laugh every day. Recently we went to the golf course where he loves to grab one of his small golf clubs and hit the ball as far as he can. He normally grabs his 5 iron, regardless of where the ball is on the course, and hits it as hard as he can and if it goes more than 10 feet he is thrilled. This specific day, he was on the green about 20 feet from the hole when he grabbed his 5 iron, I recommended he get his putter. He told me that he likes his 5 iron and even when I tried to reason with him that when on the green you should use a putter, he grabbed his 5 iron and whacked it off the green. I explained to him that one club can't be used on all parts of the course but he just looked at me like I was crazy. In the following article I am going to offer that practicing in the continuous improvement arena is a lot like golf; one size does not fit all.

One-Size-Fits-All Approach

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is meeting people within different industries and from different backgrounds. I have been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people with job titles ranging from hourly associates and mid-level managers, to C-suite executives. In addition, they have served in such diverse industries ranging from the government sector, manufacturing and distribution to sales, marketing and engineering. The power of continuous improvement is that it can be used regardless of industry and with all levels of employees. However, there are adjustments in terms of approach, tools and even methodologies that must be done depending on the industry and the audience.

If we must be flexible in terms of approaches, tools and methodologies then why is it that there are continuous improvement practitioners proposing that any organization can simply 'plug and play' a Toyota, Danaher, or even their model into any organization? It doesn't take much time scrolling through LinkedIn to see several consulting firms and individuals touting that their specific model or approach can be leveraged for any organization. While I agree that you can take certain methodologies or operational excellence philosophers from successful programs such as Toyota or Danaher; there is no organization exactly alike another. I don't understand why so many operational excellence professionals are promoting a 'plug and play' or 'one size fits all' approach to continuous improvement when it simply doesn't work.

Past Experiences

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of some amazing organizations in my career. From the US Army to Siemens, Nike and finally Radial (formerly eBay Enterprises) before venturing out on my own as the co-owner of A Change in Latitude Consulting. Each of these Organizations was different and the structure of their continuous improvement programs reflected those differences. For example, Nike was a heavily matrixed organization where it was common for leaders to have two, or even three, bosses. The continuous improvement efforts reflected that by ensuring that communication was broad in scope and that all relevant stakeholders had a voice in change efforts. Radial on the other hand was a completely different organization with more of an entrepreneurial feel that favored the speed of change over cross-functional collaboration. Therefore, the continuous improvement efforts were focused on the key stakeholders and ensured that improvements were laser focused on the areas that would significantly impact the desired future state of the organizations.


Operational excellence leaders must consider their specific organisation and various nuances when planning transformation strategies. These efforts must be focused and customized for the specific organization. Of course this takes more work, but it is the only way to stop wasting time and resources on an effort that has a high probability of failing. Through leveraging existing research on the causes of transformation effort failures and customizing the business transformation deployment based on the specific organization involved, together we can reduce the number of operational excellence failures."

Shane has been a leader in the operational excellence field for over ten years and has worked with organisations such as the US Army, Siemens, Nike and Radial. He has been a frequent presenter at OPEX events, a guest on the Just in Time Café podcast of goleansixsigma.com as well as the Manufacturing Leader’s podcast. He recently partnered with his wife to form A Change in Latitude Consulting, a management consulting firm that partners with public and private sector organisations to transform their business and improve their latitude through leveraging continuous process improvement. He is a veteran of the US Army, a certified Lean Six Sigma Master black belt and holds a PhD from Sullivan University.