Could continuous improvement (CI) be simpler than you thought?

Continous Improvement HD

Imagine if you could build continuous improvement (CI) into your business simply and easily? Since I’ve been seriously involved in performance improvement I have seen so many organisations get themselves all “Lean, Business Process Re-engineered, or Six Sigma’d up, then the teams who are now qualified go out and get little or no results. I have seen plenty of organisations who have so much potential but for many different reasons just never get the results.

Continuous Improvement vs Top Sports People

As an ex sports person (I’m now a has been!) I remember jumping in the pool at 18 and not being able to swim two lengths. At the time my aim was to be a decent triathlete, I asked my squad coach how long it would take to get my 1500 meter time down under 23 minutes in the pool. The coach was a nice guy and also trained the commonwealth games swimmers, bizarre I asked given at that point I couldn’t even swim two lengths. Anyway, the coach told me probably 3-5 years, so I set a goal to break the initial time asap, and nine months later I had broken it then within two years had my time down under 20 minutes.

Follow a proven process…

So how does this relate to CI, well like sport what’s crucial is you have a process you are going to follow that’s a proven process. This can be incredibly simple though, for example in a business it might just be that from this point on we are going to run a whiteboard system that tracks production performance week on week. We will have meetings with the key leads, on a monthly basis set specific stretch goals and do a lessons learned on the prior month. In the pool knew I needed to swim better and that it was going to take some time, once I had a process, action was really all that was needed. In the pool there was actually very little I knew about what would speed me up, I just needed to trust the process effectively following the rules on the whiteboard our coach put up each morning. Most other starters actually never did this, they made up their own rules and or often varied from the process as they felt they “Knew better” etc.

Jack Welch (ex) CEO of GE and the man that really put his money where his mouth was around CI, shares 2 mins and some simple thoughts about CI -and keeping it real…

How about just starting?

Don’t wait until you have qualified people, don’t wait until you have all the answers, start a CI process now ASAP. The number of organisations I see trying to build the perfect CI model, and or a strategy for CI that will at some point (once the function is fully built) bring massive results. Just Start!

DMAIC

One example simple 5 step model for continuous improvement is the DMAIC process, its simple, the steps include:

Define – identify, prioritize and select a specific area / project to work on
Measure – key process characteristics, the scope of area you want to enhance
Analyse – identify the key causes and process determinants of the current state
Improve– change the process in order to optimise performance
Control – if/once it works lock in the changes by creating a new process

Okay, sure there are books 1700 pages and longer on DMAIC and related process improvement methodologies. However, like swimming if you follow a simple version and, use it consistently it will actually still work. You already have your subject matter experts SME’s – (Like the swim coach) and they already have the answers. Most people that came to the swim squad were not consistent, they were lazy or focused on too many different things. When one guy came and was worse than anyone he’d seen in ages, but coming back his performance improved much faster than most others.

We all need to improve our game…

Major benefits of a process like DMAIC include the fact that improving key process & or business issues is something every team member is faced with sooner or later. DMAIC’s logical approach can make it a simple backbone of effective process improvement initiatives. Having a simple structure like this is good for high-risk areas, without structured implementation, issues will likely return when people decide to do it their way either because it suits their project or it is the ‘way we have always done it’.

A process like this helps find root causes, so effective countermeasures can be formulated and it is designed for creating sustainable results. (See future article on finding root causes) It also makes improvements part of how we do our business as usual work.

In conclusion like the Triathlete who couldn’t swim but wanted to, often it’s just about about getting on with it not necessarily waiting until you have all the answers. Serious improvement and results are possible in many areas in most organisations and on major projects. I’m continually surprised by what people in organisations put up with. It would be great to hear your stories about teams that took action, and saw change occurring fast through the use of a process that was proven and with consistent effort.

  • What successes have your teams had?
  • Why have you had CI failures and what lessons did you learn?

Author: Hunter Dean

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