Assessing the pros and cons of 8 models, and addressing the subtle adaptations that move the needle

All great companies have continuous improvement ingrained into their culture. Why is this? Well, it is because they know that the only true sustainable competitive advantage comes from a culture of continuous improvement.

All organizations, large and small, are facing increasing pressure for higher levels of productivity, return on investment, shareholder value and other measures of performance. These means that organizations must continue to improve not only by innovations around their products and services however also from continuing to refine their systems and processes.

So what is continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort to improve all elements of an organization. It rests on the belief that a steady stream of improvements, diligently executed, will have transformational results.

Let’s take a look at some of the popular continuous improvement models.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle:

Among the most widely used tools for the continuous improvement model is a four-step quality assurance method, also known as the Deming model, the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle:

  • Plan: Identify an opportunity and plan for change.
  • Do: Implement the change on a small scale.
  • Check: Use data to analyze the results of the change and determine whether it made a difference.
  • Act: If the change was successful, implement it on a wider scale and continuously assess your results. If the change did not work, begin the cycle again.

Pros of Plan-Do-Check-Act:


You can use this tool in many business environments and other applications. It can be used in change management, resource management, and product development.

Provide Continuous Improvement

It allows you to improve the productivity and efficiency in a controlled manner on a small-scale project. Hence, it avoids making large scale and untested changes to your process.

Powerful and Straightforward Tool

This model is very simple to understand. Moreover, it is a powerful tool that resolves new and recurring issues. Thus, it minimizes waste and increases efficiency.

Cons of Plan-Do-Check-Act:

Takes Time

The tool is easy to use, but the work takes time. It is slower, and this model breaks process improvements into small steps. Therefore, it is not an appropriate approach to deal with urgent problems or an emergency.

Needs Commitment

PDCA is not a one-time event. It requires commitment from team members because it is an on-going and continuous process. In the absence of committed leadership, your model won’t work effectively for an extended period.

Not as simple as it Could Be

Albert Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” For this reason I feel that PDCA has too many steps and could be simplified to Plan Do Review which is what we used in Spec Ops.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma refers to a data-driven approach used by companies to upgrade their business processes. The method uses a five-step methodology to eliminate defects at all stages within a company. Six Sigma defines defects as anything that is not within customer expectations. The goal is to apply a measurement-based approach that focuses on identifying and improving defects.

Pros of Six Sigma

Six Sigma has a proven track record of adding value and ensuring quality to the output of a business in the form of incremental improvements to a product or a service. It may also be used to optimize supply chain processes and increase customer satisfaction. The benefits of Six Sigma go beyond simple problem-solving and consider the entire production process from the raw materials to the end product, as opposed to only the end product.

Six Sigma is a proactive methodology that identifies and provides recommendations for potential problems before the company incurs any form of loss. Six Sigma may be implemented in several categories within a business, directly impacting profitability and reducing costs. It is significant to note that for B2B customers, the Six Sigma standard for manufacturing products is a credible endorsement.

Cons of Six Sigma

Six Sigma inspects the business processes minute-by-minute and generates large amounts of empirical data, leading to time-consuming and complicated procedures. Also, because it is a quality improvement process at its root, adoption of its protocols often leads to an increase in the overall costs.

Sometimes when a company implements Six Sigma, problems arise as the company focuses on Six Sigma endorsed policies only and forgets about its specific mission statement or policies. For small businesses, it may constrain new ideas favoring creativity and innovation, which require some risk-taking to implement. Companies have to find certified Six Sigma institutes to train their employees or conduct in-house training without formal certification. In either case, the cost of Six Sigma adoption by small businesses is too high to be feasible. Even large companies must provide a lot of training for employees to grasp the system.

Lean Management

Waste is never a good thing — whether that’s resources, time, or money — and that’s exactly what Lean management is about: creating a culture that is as efficient as possible.

Toyota originally developed the Lean methodology back in the ’80s to minimize waste on their production line. Needless to say, it worked for them and since then, a huge range of industries have adopted it, from marketing and manufacturing to design, management, and beyond.

If you want to work more effectively with your team, then Lean could be your new favorite tool. Read on to find out exactly what this popular methodology involves.

What are the main principles of Lean?

Lean management is shaped around five core principles, as described by the Lean Management Institute.

1. Identify your value. Always satisfy your customers’ needs by only providing services that add value. Any activity that doesn’t add value is considered waste.

2. Map the value stream. Analyze your workflow from start to finish, including all the activities of everyone on your team (and potentially beyond). Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to see which activities add value, and which don’t.

3. Create flow. Refine and streamline your workflow, highlighting things like bottlenecks or unnecessary approval stages that could slow things down. Remember: if it doesn’t add value (or causes problems), then get rid of it.

4. Establish pull. This is a way of working that requires people to ‘pull’ jobs to work on when there’s demand, and only when there’s demand.

To use a real-life example, say you’re working behind a bar. You’d pull a drink for someone when they step up and order one — you wouldn’t pour beers in advance when the bar is empty. It’s the same for Lean working.

5. Seek perfection. Lean isn’t something that has an endpoint; it’s about continuous improvement. Tasks and workforces change, which is why it’s important to revisit and refine the workflow. And even if nothing’s changed, assess anyway — there’s almost always room for improvement.

Pros of Lean management?

Lean principles are designed to continually improve productivity. It’s popular because, when done properly, it works. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Less waste. Continually refining your workflow means you can iron out productivity-sapping issues and tasks that don’t add anything.
  • More focus. By cutting out activities that don’t add value, your team can apply more focus to those that do.
  • Better motivation. When employees are able to focus on meaningful and impactful work, rather than valueless busywork, they have a greater sense of purpose.
  • A smarter way of working. Using the pull system means the team will only work on tasks when there’s demand. They can spend any spare time on either preparation or training.
  • More value for the customer. By cutting out tasks that don’t add value, you’ll be able to commit more time to those that do, ensuring a higher-quality product.

Cons of Lean management?

As with all things, there are downsides. Although, as will all downsides, there are steps you can take to minimize the chance of occurrence. Here are the main things to look out for:

  • Lack of time. Lean requires some planning and time upfront: you’ll need to take a deep dive into your current workflow and team activities, which could include tracking things over a period of time (if you’re not already), as well as talking to team members and heads of other teams.You’ll also need to encourage your team to meet regularly (many Lean teams hold a daily standup) to discuss the work that’s been completed, what needs to be done, and any problems that could get in the way.
  • A lack of strategy. Some organizations get so focused on Lean tactics that they lose sight of the bigger picture. One way to get around this is to create a project charter for each project, as well as an overall mission statement.
  • Not enough buy-in. Lean is considered a radical way of working that requires complete buy-in from teams. They’ll need to work independently without too much direction, which might not work if your team is inexperienced. Implementing a new strategy can also cause stress, especially if it’s a particularly results-oriented methodology — which Lean is. Brush up on your organizational communication skills so you can effectively tell everyone why they are shifting to this way of working. You may also need to invest in training to get less experienced (or resistant) workers up to speed.
  • Cutting things too fine. Lean follows a ‘pull’ style of working which means work is delivered as needed, and not preemptively. However, if there’s a bottleneck or your resources are low (for example, someone’s off sick), then delays can start adding up quickly. Having a contingency plan in place can help provide leeway, while smart planning using project management software will help you track tasks in real-time, helping you plan ahead.



TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) is a holistic approach to equipment maintenance that strives to achieve perfect production:

  • No Breakdowns
  • No Small Stops or Slow Running
  • No Defects

In addition it values a safe working environment:

  • No Accidents

TPM emphasizes proactive and preventative maintenance to maximize the operational efficiency of equipment. It blurs the distinction between the roles of production and maintenance by placing a strong emphasis on empowering operators to help maintain their equipment.

The implementation of a TPM program creates a shared responsibility for equipment that encourages greater involvement by plant floor workers. In the right environment this can be very effective in improving productivity (increasing up time, reducing cycle times, and eliminating defects).

Pros of TPM

Total Productive maintenance fosters planned maintenance and that leads to minimizing the cost of maintenance. On the other hand, unplanned costs three to nine times more than planned maintenance. So when it comes to planned maintenance the following we will be covering as advantages of TPM namely; Low unplanned maintenance time and cost, safe and secure working environment, output — above and beyond expectations and proven impact.

Low Unplanned Maintenance Time and Cost

TPM urges employees to take ownership of the equipment and it is pretty much employee-centered and increases employee engagement. It increases production uptime thus reduces the time of maintenance and cost.

Many total productive maintenance examples include the instances majorly from the manufacturing industry. Aerospace industry supplier MRC bearings will be able to reduce as much as 98 percent of its unplanned maintenance hours within eight months of effective implementation of TPM.

Safe and Secure Working Environment

Total Productive Management (TPM) model follows the 5S foundation model that has been designed keeping in mind the maintenance of machines. This 5S model Sort, set in order, Shine, Standardize, sustain intended to ensure a safe and healthy working environment to avoid the dirt and filthy machine parts. Moreover, unclean equipment increases the risks of injury whereas, more maintenance activities will have low depreciation and lessen the possibility of losing ball bearings and lubricant leakage.

Many incidents in the workplace are subjected to disorderliness, tools in the wrong place can lead to serious injuries.

Output — Above and Beyond Expectations

Another positive aspect of TPM is Quality maintenance — that translates quality improvements into an effective production process. This highly impacted the overall quality and customer satisfaction.

Proven Impact

The major goal of TPM is to have effectiveness in production with minimal chance of any error. In TPM efficacy of equipment can be measured through the OEE Overall Equipment Effectiveness score. OEE is the standard benchmark for measuring the manufacturing productivity.

Whether it’s a discrete or process-oriented production system, OEE can quickly calculate the metrics in terms of standardized production, equipment losses, and overall productivity. Metrics can quantify the measures and OEE facilitates your facility score against the industrial benchmarks.

Cons of TPM

There are challenges attached with the implementation of TPM. As per the reports of International TPM Institute, the statistics shared by Ed Hartmann he said at least every second attempt of installation of TPM results in failure.

Here, we will be talking about important challenges faced by the implementation of TPM program.

Supportive Top Management and Allocation of Resources

Total Productive Management (TPM) philosophy is very significant for top management to promote it as the corporate policy. Top managers are the predominant part of any organization, people will abide by all those policies that they believe to be crucial and instructed by the top management. If people deemed it to be inconsequential then all efforts invested for the execution of Total Productive Management will be futile.

In addition to this if top management fully endorses TPM philosophy and allocates proper resources to the project then impact will be exceptional. Initially, full-time resources must be allocated and part-time on the further development of the project.

Enforcement of Lean Culture

It is the responsibility of management to enforce a lean culture in the organization. Lean culture promotes productivity orientation, by eliminating waste hence setting the bar for quality and ensures employee safety.

Employee resistance can be challenging here; it is important for management to highlight the significance of total productive maintenance (TPM) so they can perform accordingly.

TPM Training of All Employees

Training of TPM programs must be provided to all employees on a priority basis before initiating any project. TPM methodology and lean techniques must be clearly understood among all the staff including top management. It is to ensure that reluctant senior management must be aware of the insights and accomplishment of the TPM program during the early phases of the project as this will help to attain the commitment and support from the top management.

It is only focused on Production

TPM is only focused on production and equipment maintenance. In order to have a more holistic approach it is also necessary to implement TQM (see below).

TQM (Total Quality Management)

What are the Principles of TQM?

A successful TQM implementation will always follow eight key principles:

  1. TQM is focused on the customer. The ultimate measure of success is the customer’s satisfaction with the product.
  2. All employees must be involved in the process at a high level to ensure success.
  3. Strategies are focused on processes, and on the steps necessary to complete them.
  4. The parts of a process should be smoothly integrated into a larger, cohesive process.
  5. Processes should be organized strategically, with an eye toward both short- and long-term goals.
  6. Strategies should aim toward continual improvement of products and processes.
  7. Facts and data are indispensable for making decisions and implementing changes.
  8. Effective communication plays a vital role in keeping an organization running smoothly, both during day-to-day operations and in times of organizational change.

Pros of TQM

TQM leads to better products manufactured at lower cost. The focus on using high quality information to improve processes reduces waste and saves time, leading to reduced expenses that can be passed along to clients in the form of lower prices. Companies that successfully implement TQM are able to reduce variability, providing the consistency that customers value. This creates customer loyalty and earns their continued business.

The emphasis on engagement at all levels leads to employee engagement, which reduces turnover and saves money on training and mistakes due to inexperience.

Cons of TQM

One of the main disadvantages of TQM is the need for company-wide commitment to quality improvement, and the difficulty of achieving this commitment. All levels of management must be on board for the program to be truly successful. Any lack of effort or resources will undermine the success of a TQM program, causing negative ripples throughout the company.

If management fails to fully implement a TQM program, its partial efforts are bound to fail. For example, just limiting the initiative to personnel training without making use of statistical tools to measure and evaluate process changes will create frustration and inadequate results. Training programs must be taken full circle through evaluations and measured outcomes. One reason some companies focus on training is because it is tangible and easy to show that something was done. But unless training is followed up with ongoing coaching, the knowledge and skills it provides are unlikely to stick.

It is only focused on Quality

TQM is only focused on quality. In order to have a more holistic approach it is also necessary to implement TPM (see TPM above).


Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “improvement”. It originated from the Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement. This business philosophy made Japanese manufacturing companies more efficient than their counterparts. This made companies in the USA also adopt this business philosophy in the late 1980s.

Inasmuch as kaizen offers a lot of benefits to businesses, it also has its downside. Hence, you need to understand kaizen advantages and disadvantages if you are planning to adopt this quality improvement methodology.

Generally, a business needs continuous improvements to be able to meet and exceed customer’s expectations. This is where kaizen comes in. Kaizen offers a scientific approach to continuous improvements. In addition, it employs statistical tools and incorporates business values to improvements.

Furthermore, kaizen is based on the theory that a series of small improvements can cause a drastic change in business processes. Thus, kaizen encourages the input and creativity of employees in implementing changes. As a result, employees are always open to changes as a part of improvement.

Pros of Kaizen

Worthy targets

Kaizen as a method of improvement is not only beneficial to the business. It is also beneficial to employees, customers and the organization as a whole. This management theory is applicable to most types of businesses. Kaizen recognizes and rewards the efforts of employees. By so doing, it gives them a sense of worth in the organization.

Improved teamwork

One of the major kaizen advantages is improved teamwork. Kaizen is a quality improvement tool driven by teamwork. It does not benefit only a selected few, but everyone involved in the business process. As the kaizen team solves problems together, they develop a bond and build team spirit. Thus, employees are able to work with a fresh perspective, an unbiased mind and without prejudice.

In addition, teamwork helps build cross-functional collaborations. Since skilled workers from different departments implement kaizen, team members are able to refine their skills. Most often, the biggest opportunities for improvement lies where one process flows into another. Cross-functional collaborations enable employees with different experiences to learn from one another and solve problems together. Therefore, this one kaizen advantage is that it improves teamwork and cooperation amongst employees.

Kaizen builds leadership skills

Every kaizen team must have a team leader. The team leader is responsible for organizing the kaizen team and coordinating implementation. The kaizen team leader makes sure that everyone is performing their roles successfully. The team leader is also responsible for sourcing for help when additional resources are required. Nevertheless, s/he does not have to be in a management role to qualify as a team leader. Thus, another kaizen advantage is that it presents an opportunity for employees to take on leadership roles.

Improved efficiency

A major kaizen advantage is improved efficiency. Kaizen improvements boost the quality of services. It helps businesses implement new process improvements, boost efficiency and enhance time management. For example, Toyota Manufacturing Company employs kaizen in its production process. First of all, they deploy muscle-memory training to train their employees on how to assemble a car. Muscle-memory training helps them to achieve accurate results. Hence, their employees are able to work with precision.

Also, immediately an automotive plant reaches its peak in terms of efficiency, the company removes a few workers from that plant. By so doing, Toyota Manufacturing is able to minimize errors and maximize productivity.

Improved Standard Work Document

Implementing changes during kaizen results to a new and improved Standard Work Document. Standard Work Document, also called standardized work, is a tool that forms the foundation of kaizen improvements. It contains the current best practice guiding a business. Sometimes, this is the main aim of implementing kaizen. In addition, Standard Work Document serves as the base for future improvements. It also serves as a tool for measuring employee performance and educating new employees about improvements. In essence, kaizen helps businesses develop a Standard Word Document.

Improved employee satisfaction

Another kaizen advantage is that it improves employee satisfaction. Kaizen involves the employees when implementing changes for improvements. Employees can make suggestions and creative input for changes through a suggestion system like team meetings. When employees are involved in decision making, it gives them a sense of belonging and worth. They are eager to implement changes and think of new ways to improve the processes. By so doing, the employees are motivated and productivity increases. Also, employees are more willing to take ownership of process improvements. Rather than falling back on old methods, they become advocates of quality improvements.

Better safety

Improving safety on the work floor is a kaizen advantage for business. Safety is improved when businesses implement ideas that clean up and organize workspace. By so doing, employees have better control of business process equipment. Employees are also encouraged to make suggestions to improve safety on the work floor. This helps to minimize accidents and other related injuries. Hence, employees become more efficient and manage their time properly. However, safety is a responsibility of management as well.

Waste reduction

Kaizen reduces wastes in business processes. This is another major kaizen advantage. Kaizen is the responsibility of everyone. Therefore, management and staff are responsible for identifying areas that constitute waste in the business process. By implementing constant changes, they can determine the root cause of wastage and fix them. By so doing, waste is eradicated from the business process and cost is reduced. Furthermore, resources are used more judiciously, and the business becomes more profitable.

The method of continuous improvement applied in kaizen helps businesses to achieve great successes. No business grows overnight. It requires a lot of patience and hard work. This also includes recognizing areas of improvements and making necessary changes.

Cons of Kaizen

Difficult to implement in existing systems

Despite the many benefits of kaizen, there are some limitations business managers need to be aware of before deciding to implement it. This is because implementing kaizen is tantamount to altering current management systems. As soon as kaizen is implemented in an organization, it is very difficult to return to old management systems. Hence, kaizen might be easier to implement in businesses without already established management systems.

However, it is a very difficult task to change the entire management system of a business. Therefore, it is important that businesses maintain a practice of open communication for kaizen to be efficient. Employees should be given the opportunity to air their views without fear. Although, this is not usually the case for many businesses. Employees usually fear that if they are open to management it would cost them their chances for promotion or other benefits.

Change is difficult

One of the greatest kaizen disadvantages is that people are always reluctant to change. Therefore, when businesses want to implement kaizen, they have to put up with a certain resistance. Employees might not be ready to accept a different system from what they have been used to. On the other hand, management might be reluctant to implement kaizen because they feel it is expensive.

Could cause frictions

In addition, when implementing kaizen, could be very difficult for some organizations to change their current approach to work. Hence, if a business is not prepared for change when implementing kaizen, it could lead to friction.

Training requirement

Another kaizen disadvantage is the method of training. The kaizen methodology requires training staff and management to understand and adopt the kaizen philosophy. This might require altering the usual process of work. Employees may need to take out time from work to undergo training. Also, new employees may need to undergo kaizen training in addition to their usual training. Thus, they may find it tedious and demanding. More so, the time allotted for training may not be sufficient for employees to grasp the entire concept of kaizen. As such, employees may not be willing to implement a concept they do not understand.

Enthusiasm could wane easily

Employees might be excited at first to implement changes. However, their excitement could wear away when the changes become difficult to adapt to. As such, they may resort to old practices and stick to ‘business as usual’. In addition, employees could be demoralized and unenthusiastic about work. Hence, the time and resources spent to implement kaizen are wasted and the purpose of implementing kaizen is defeated.

Few bad eggs could ruin the whole batch

Even if some departments stick to the changes that have the implemented, it could still affect overall business performance. It is true that kaizen will improve the departments that accept the changes. Nevertheless, the overall output will be compromised if other departments do not adopt the changes as well.

Generally, continuous improvement is a great way for a business to operate. Notwithstanding, training employees to adapt to continuous improvements is expensive and tasking. Also, when businesses implement continuous improvements, they might be at risk of changing parts of their processes that are actually functioning well.

DMAIC Process: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control

The DMAIC Model

The DMAIC model is a problem-solving method used to identify flaws and improve inefficiencies in business processes.

One challenge of day-to-day business is resolving problems.

Some problems are more complex than we first think. To solve the problem and get the business back on track, we need a structured problem-solving approach.

This is where DMAIC comes in. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. It is a data-driven iterative approach that you can use to improve a process or fix a problem.

DMAIC is a core part of the six-sigma quality improvement methodology.

The five steps of the DMAIC model are:

  1. Define phase: where you understand the problem you want to address.

2. Measure phase: where you collect data to help you make an informed decision about what’s causing the problem.

3. Analyze phase: where you examine and interpret the collected data to attempt to identify the root cause of the problem.

4. Improve phase: where you fix the root cause of the problem.

5. Control phase: where you put in place a mechanism to ensure the improvements you’ve made are sustained.

Each step builds on the previous step in the sequence. As you use the DMAIC model and come to understand the bigger picture of an improvement project, you may need to iterate through the whole process or a subset of it several times.

Pros of the DMAIC method

The structured approach is useful in any situation where you need to improve a complex process.

The DMAIC method aims to analyze a process before implementation, and this reduces the chance of fixing the wrong issue.

It helps to improve team and organization communications. This leads to improved performance overall, and ultimately this can filter through to happier customers.

Cons of the DMAIC method

A one size fits all approach does not suit an organization that relies on creativity.

Without awareness, during the implementation of DMAIC, it is easy to become too focused on using the tool, rather than finding the right solution.

It is cumbersome for simple and obvious problems.

Any method of continuous improvement, such as Six Sigma, lean, and total quality management, emphasize employee involvement and teamwork, should work to measure and systematize processes, and reduce variation, defects, and cycle times.

Here is the four step Continuous Improvement cycle framework that I use:

As a consultant I usually try to stay model agnostic in order to be able to flex with the client. I tend to use whatever model or framework they are either familiar with already or which ever model or framework that are currently using.

However there is a process I try to get them to adopt if they do not have anything else. It is a four stop process: Capture, Implement, Measure and Share.

I have found that in almost every case, these steps will help a client implement their own continuous improvement program.

It starts with Capture because if you do not have a formal way of capturing ideas than it is easy for good ideas to be lost or forgotten about.

It is also important to note that from the Capture step, after analyzing the idea or the issue that there may be nothing that can be done about it. In this case it is critical that you still go to the Share step. I have found that this is one of the main causes for employees not feeling heard and becoming disengaged. Often if an idea is not implemented, no one goes back to the employee to let them know why not. In the case that an idea is not implemented, the employee still needs to be given feedback about it.


Opportunities for Improvement

Before a process or condition can be improved, the current state must be understood. Thus, the first step in continuous improvement is identifying and capturing opportunities for improvement. These opportunities should come from across your organization — particularly from the front lines, as these are the people doing the work and are therefore most qualified to improve it.

You should have a standard method for capturing improvement at all levels, including daily improvements as well as those relating to your larger strategic projects and rapid improvement events. Tracking where opportunities are coming from helps you capture the pulse of your improvement culture and determine how far your improvement methodology has spread.


The Opportunities

Continuous improvement requires that once an opportunity for improvement is identified, it is prioritized and resources are allocated to instigate change. Often cross-functional teams are involved to maximize the positive impact of improvement across the organization.

Organizations with a successful culture of continuous improvement implement at least 80% of the ideas that their staff identifies. This isn’t to say that the ideas they get are better than those in an organization with a lower implementation rate, but rather, that they work to find an implementable solution to every opportunity that is identified. Sometimes that required providing additional coaching to staff, encouraging them to identify simpler solutions to the problems they’ve discovered.

Tracking your implementation rate is key to establishing a sustainable improvement culture, as it allows you to evaluate and adjust frequently to meet the changing patterns of your organization.


Impact, Activity, and Engagement

An important aspect of continuous improvement is documentation of results and ROI. An improvement is complete or an issue resolved only when the target KPIs have been achieved and a record of the change has been made. This documentation makes it possible to apply the principles and, sometimes even tactics that were successful in one situation to others, accelerating the pace of future innovation.

Understanding the impact of their improvements is vital for engaging employees in the process. It shows them that even the smallest, most incremental changes are worthwhile — a concept that also applies to sharing reports with senior leaders who also need to buy into continuous improvement.

Other important metrics are your engagement and activity levels, as these show the depth and breadth of your improvement culture. This allows you to identify bottlenecks to the improvement process before they impede progress, giving you time to coach and adjust as needed.


Lessons Learned

Once an improvement has progressed through the first three stages of the improvement cycle, the results and impact must then be shared across the organization. This has many benefits, the most important of which is that such sharing gives each improvement the maximum impact. Ideas implemented in one part of the organization can be applied throughout, compounding their impact and ensuring that everyone is aware of the latest best practices.

Your improvements should be logged so that they create a searchable knowledge repository so that the information is preserved beyond the period of the initial improvement and sharing. This way, people will understand in the future the origins of current best practices and be able to solve problems by doing a quick search of improvements from across the organization.

So, what does continuous improvement look like in action?

Fostering a continuous improvement culture is rooted in three practices:

Performance transparency starts with making goals public and cascading those goals (typically a balanced mix of financial and operational metrics) in a way that is tailored to individuals at all levels of the organization. This is a critical component as it ensures that the continuous improvement initiatives are aligned with the organizations strategic goals. Progress toward goals must be transparently tracked to give the frontline and management clear visibility into what is working and what needs work.

Knowledge sharing is critical to scale best practices across (and up and down) organizations. One of our clients became adept at deploying small cross-functional teams against any problem to break down the organizational silos that had previously prevented knowledge sharing.

Employee involvement is a necessity in continuous improvement organizations. Frontline employees are closest to the work, and thus typically have the richest insights on how their work can be done better. Capturing their perspectives is critical.

As you can see, there are a number of models, frameworks and processes to choose from and it is easy to be overwhelmed by all of this. My suggestions is to find one you feel will work for you and your organization and adopt it. If you find it is not working, change it. The real key is that doing something is, in most cases, better than doing nothing.

Christopher Jones is a trusted advisor to leaders with the ability to align strategy with tactics, drive leadership development and corporate-wide change efforts.