4 Factors that Make a Continuous Improvement Program Successful
Continuous Improvement is the on-going effort to improve products, services and processes by making small, incremental improvements within a business. It is based on the belief that these incremental changes will add up to major improvements over time and it is as much about tactics (i.e. specific improvements) as it is about changing the culture of the organization to focus on opportunities for improvement rather than problems.
Here are four factors that are essential to successful continuous improvement programs:
1. Leadership that walks the talk
The support of an organization’s leadership team is usually cited as the number one factor for the success of a continuous improvement initiative. Leaders must exhibit behaviours that not only demonstrate support for the initiative but also the behaviours that they wish all employees to emulate. This ultimately comes down to guidance and the support within the organisation to make the change. If there is not adequate support for a continuous improvement program to be implemented, then the team charged with implementing it will be operating on what will be, in effect, a series of isolated efforts.
2. A focus on "fire prevention" rather than "fire fighting"
No individual, team or company can implement change if they don’t have the time or mental capacity to do so. The trouble is that often it is often the very problems that need fixing that are creating a series of "fires" that constantly distract managers from solving the root cause of their problems. Everyone is constantly having to work harder, rather than smarter. Worse, some company cultures celebrate and reward those employees and managers who put out the most fires, which removes incentive to prevent the fires in the first place.
3. Constancy of purpose
In Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s "14 points" he called for the "constancy of purpose for continual improvement of products and service to society." This unrelenting, unwavering focus on improvement is critical to maintaining and sustaining process improvements in the long term. Changes need to maintain momentum to ensure the changes are not forgotten and don’t grind to a halt through fatigue or resistance. Successful continuous improvement programs understand that improvement is not merely a management initiative – a so-called "flavour of the month" – but a long-term practice that needs to permeate everything an organization does.
4. Shift to long term mind-set
Managers are often focused on whether they’re going to meet their monthly or quarterly targets and it can be very difficult to prioritize improvements that will only make an impact over the longer term. As a result, continuous improvement is as much about mind-set as it is about actions. The company needs to start looking at the long-term impact of the work it is doing and understand that a quarterly dip in performance can be tolerated if it means that in the long term, the company is in a better position - both financially and in terms of the company’s ability to deliver outstanding products and services to its customers.
The clue to successful continuous improvement is in the name. It must be continuous so that opportunities for growth can be highlighted, improvement made and measured and evaluated.