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

What is Lean Construction and or LPD – Lean Project Delivery?

Are you the delivery manager or project director on a major road, rail, mine or other construction project in Australia? Have you been hearing about how Lean Construction techniques may be able to significantly help your teams on site improve the way they do things?

Are you sceptical Lean Construction sounds like a BLACK BOX solution

I WAS!

Have you heard about it from several people who’ve not been able to “Pinpoint” exactly what it is or how and what it might do for you on your project? Does it seem to you a lot like TQM or other improvement methods you may have experienced across your career?

Lean Construction or LPD explained in one paragraph.

Lean Construction is a process to change the way workflows occur on projects so they are more predictable and reliable. On every construction site there are wasted resources e.g.: People standing around at times doing nothing, too much inventory sitting around on site, machinery not being used but being paid for etc. On work sites the average work complete each week verses that scheduled by teams sits at 40 to 60%. In other words most weeks work teams should have achieved 40 to 60% more productivity BUT THEY DON’T.

This results in project finish dates and budgets that continuously blow way over what they should be in costs and time.

Lean construction is a set of tools that enables major projects to streamline workflow reliability and predictability on sites. Its core focus is around optimising the project not the individual pieces, and it does this through making changes to the way project managers, superintendents, engineers, designers, procurement teams and others do some of the following:

Schedule using new methods

  • To increase performance
  • Have meetings that work
  • Track and monitor project costs
  • Use metrics on site that motivate

Lead in a new way

  • To collaborate with all teams
  • Spend (or not) spend time at sites
  • See the value of integrating supply chains into their processes

Use Continuous Learning Methods

  • Use continuous improvement in construction
  • Map value streams in to improve fabrication methods
  • Capture and transfer learnings through technology
  • Quality check without paper
  • Use CAD & BIM in new ways

Having spent time with some of the Co-Founders of Lean Construction in 2011 I became intrigued by how easily major projects can benefit by training their teams in these methods. This is not a one size fits all methodology but is one where almost every single project can find benefits.

Hunter with Greg Howell one of the Co-Founders of Lean Construction.

I have not yet in this post mentioned the actual tools that have made Lean Construction famous like Pull Planning, Last Planner, Weekly work plans etc. Over the coming months I will be writing about the Lean Construction tools and Lean Project Delivery on projects in order that more people can benefit from this work.

If you are interested and or are a sceptic like I was, then now may be the time to start researching this field.

Lead people the best way for them!

I had a conversation with a client the other day about how they were dealing with different personalities in their business. I knew it was one of those chats where I had to get a specific message across.

Thinking about it afterwards reminded me of how I like to be communicated with. This is at times different to how others like to be treated. I’m the kind of person who likes the straight-shooting approach. Coming originally from New Zealand where there are fewer people and the “Fishpond” is much smaller, I’ve grown up with the greater tendency over there to be told exactly what is needed in black & white.

When I’m being mentored or led by someone else, what works is for me to be told what the specific tasks are and results needed. Then, if you leave me to my own devices, I’ll do the research, set up the plan and roll it out with only a small amount of help or encouragement. Keeping an eye on me and/or having a coffee with me is useful at times, more for the social and innovative ideas that come from it than for any need for “help”.

This person I was speaking with was not like that at all. They needed to be spoken to with gentle gloves and much encouragement. It was one of those conversations where I needed to be very supportive and enabling.

It really got me thinking about a model I have used personally for many years. It is a simple reminder to us all to think about what the other person needs from us prior to rushing in and the telling them what we want or must have.

The model is the Situational Leadership Model. Please note I’m not saying you should only ever communicate with people using one of the four steps outlined below. However, personally I’ve found them to be a real help when thinking through tough conversations where results need to occur in short timeframes.

This model looks at the world of leadership inside of 4 simple styles as follows:

Style 1 – Directing

The person leading provides a specific direction & closely monitors task accomplishment.

Style 2 – Coaching

The leader makes sure they direct & closely monitor things, but also explains decisions, elicits suggestions, and provides support where needed.

Style 3 – Supporting

The leader uses a facilitative & supportive approach toward the achievement of tasks using the shared-responsibility decision-making principle.

Style 4 – Delegating

The leader turns over the responsibility for decision-making and problem-solving to the person and/or team in question.

Here’s a short presentation by Ken & Scott Blanchard about how using Situational Leadership II can make a huge difference to the conversations you have with your people. If you get your leadership working with their direct reports in a powerful way that encourages talent-management processes and continuously increases performance, then you tend to keep your people for longer periods.


Have a think about your own business unit and or company. Do you use a variety of styles when working with your people, or just one over and over? Who are the people you find tougher to work with and why do you think this is? How flexible are you with regard to communicating and getting results in your own teams? Consider changing your leadership style when you are working with certain team members.

Have a think about your own business unit and or company. Do you use a variety of styles when working with your people, or just one over and over? Who are the people you find tougher to work with and why do you think this is? How flexible are you with regard to communicating and getting results in your own teams? Consider changing your leadership style when you are working with certain team members.

Have a think about your own business unit and or company. Do you use a variety of styles when working with your people, or just one over and over? Who are the people you find tougher to work with and why do you think this is? How flexible are you with regard to communicating and getting results in your own teams? Consider changing your leadership style when you are working with certain team members.

Identifying & Replicating Talent

The issues of talent management are ones that organisations face every day. How do you go about:

  • Developing it, keeping it?
  • Working out what and who it looks like?
  • Finding where the talent lies?
  • Figuring out if your internal talents are flexible enough to be able to send where and when you like?

A good brief on where we are as regards talent and organisational change in the market was posted by Peter Cheese from Accenture – see below.

High performers are at times also high maintenance; you can’t just string them along because often, if you do, they’ll walk! In the past 10 years, we have seen several times that the high performers in organisations are the least liked by their CEOs, senior managers and sometimes even peers.

This can occur for many reasons. Some of the common ones are:

  • They are so focused on getting their own results that they don’t care about others
  • They have no need to prove themselves to others and hence do what they like
  • Often they are happy to speak their exact mind and do, sometimes leaving a trail of blood

So what can or should you do to manage your organisation’s talent and how?

  • Work out what you are measuring with. Some organisations use Psychometric Tools to analyse and draw conclusions as to who is the best. Some of these tools actually specify behaviours 1-7 as good and 8-10 as bad. Or “this” works, and “this” does not, hence Joe is better than John.
  • Understand where your workforce is ultimately headed. Have a workforce planning model that works for your business needs. At times, organisations don’t even know where they are headed with regard to recruitment. How many people who are talented are about to leave or have just arrived? There is little knowledge on where the best recruits are going to come from, and hence it’s tough to plan for the future.
  • Make sure you have a formal process of recognising who your best people are and where they lie. Have this process be one that is not one-dimensional, e.g. It should not rest on a high-level manager saying, “Great, that guy is talented.” Decisions should be made scientifically such that it takes several different internal opinions, stakeholder reviews from different divisions, and external client feedback to recognise who is “really talented.” The ability to road map the exact distinctions around why high performers have been so successful should be based on your organisation’s specific context and not necessarily on broad-based “Role Success Maps” that often have gaps in terms of your industry.
  • Have ways of replicating how you are going to find more and more of these people. Consider that often the industries where they may be working may not be the same as your own. How can you behaviourally interview these people in a fail-safe manner? For example, when Microsoft recruits senior managers, they may interview candidates 5 or 6 times, including one-on-ones with 5 different people, and then panel interview them at the end, putting candidates under such immense pressure during the final phase that they know who truly is talented under pressure.

A formal and scientific model of Talent Management in big companies is essential to make sure you keep, recruit, develop and retain not only high-performance individuals, but also high-performance teams. One of my long-term clients is considered an expert because he knows his people inside and out. Long ago, my client recognised the best performers and what they offer, having mapped what they do best and where they can then mentor others. This person’s ability to subsequently replicate these talents, which of course lie in different areas across the team, enabled him to gain significant and continuous improvement.