Tag Archives: how to sustain an improvement effort

3 Additional causes of CI derailment

derailment

Continuing with the theme of our previous post on “discontinuous improvement,” we have identified three additional causes of Continuous Improvement derailment.

As you’ll see, all three are preventable. But, like many things in life, simple things are not always easy.

For example, removing barriers or obstacles to Continuous Improvement seems a simple and straightforward objective. Yet there are many instances in which the people in charge fail to do so!

One barrier that commonly falls into the ignored category is that of an important individual in the organization who is simply not on board. The individual may feel uncomfortable or threatened by the new way of working and leading; or may simply not agree with one or more key principles of a continuously improving organization, such as the import of what the customer values, or the way to treat employees, or the imperative of constantly improving the work, or using facts and data instead of just opinion. When someone in a position of influence is not on board, he or she creates a misalignment between what people hear and what they see.

If the misalignment is not corrected, the situation has the potential to bring the CI journey to a close.

Similarly, while communication and alignment are essential, they are never really sufficient. People also need the training and skill development to follow the organization’s improvement methodology. Lack of capability or training will prevent people from progressing very far.

But personnel policies or practices can also easily obstruct productivity improvements. Sometimes jobs are defined so narrowly that managers cannot easily move people around to take advantage of productivity improvements. When managers are rewarded financially or in organizational prestige based on the number of people who report to them rather than how efficiently and effectively they operate, managers have powerful disincentives to increase productivity and move their people to where they would add more value.

Often organizations lack an effective mechanism to match up the skills and capability that one department has in excess resources with the needs of another department with a need for resources. To move resources effectively to their point of maximum value, you must develop a system of information about the skills and capabilities of your workforce. A thorough and cross-functional knowledge of people and their skills can enable an organization to move freed up resources to where they can contribute the most value rather than laying off the excess people and snuffing out motivation for further improvements.

No one but the leadership of the organization can remove the barriers to effective continuous improvement. Careful monitoring of progress to identify and remove barriers is essential to achieving a culture of continuous improvement.

Lack of quick success or “quick wins” is another common cause of CI derailments.

Early successes are the nourishment required to keep improvements going. If improvements are too slow, people get discouraged. People begin to adjust the pace of their effort to the slow pace of results.

Third, letting up on the gas after successful improvement initiatives is a more common occurrence than one might think!

In other words, success often carries with it the seeds of failure: the greater the success, the less urgency is felt for further improvements. Without a continued level of urgency, momentum toward improvement will disappear. People will be pleased with the level of performance they have achieved and turn their attention to other things.

To achieve a continuously improving culture, you must never rest. The leaders must continue to reward success, and identify bigger problems or opportunities. They must continue to strengthen the organization in continuous improvement and begin promoting based on skill at improving the work.

5 Ways to Enhance CI Success

Our previous post summarized three of the most common reasons why CI efforts fail. Today’s focus is on how to avoid those pitfalls and increase the likelihood of success.

Generally speaking, in order to ensure on-going success, an organization must make sure that its measurement systems, rewards, recognition, and communication systems support CI. But more than that, one must make sure that management behavior itself supports CI.

Our Partners in Improvement groups identified the following five best practices for making an enterprise-level CI effort more successful:

  1. Top Management Support: Senior-level leadership must visibly support CI efforts. It’s best if management meets with the teams and individuals regularly for the specific purpose of seeing how the improvement project is going and what can he or she do to support the effort and speed progress.
  2. Team Training: During our Partners discussions it was agreed that nearly everyone in the company needs some basic training. But team leaders need to be very well trained, so that they can ensure that the team follows the methodology, asks the right questions, gathers the right data, and stays on trac. It was also noted that team leaders should be very carefully chosen.
  3. Diligent Upfront Work: Project planning, even before the launch, as critical to success. This involves defining the right charter, problem statement, scope, time frame, and team.
  4. Once an enterprise-level CI plan is launched, the first principle is that nothing succeeds like success. Starting out with carefully selected projects staffed with highly qualified people is a good way to promote that success. Giving the earlier projects careful guidance and support (as referenced in bullet #1 above) is another best practice that increases the likelihood of some early wins. Making “speed to success” a priority should also be part of the plan.
  5. Communication is the next most important thing. If a team applies the CI methodology to great success but no one hears about it, the goal of making CI a cultural way of doing business will not catch on. In other words, “advertising” is important! Intranet, newsletters, presentations, story boards, discussions at staff meetings and formal recognition programs are all ways to communicate success and make sure that everyone learns from successful experiences.

Six Pitfalls that Lead to “Discontinuous” Improvement

Many, if not most organizations make attempts to improve their work. But no matter which specific methods predominate, almost all of these initiatives aimed at gaining greater efficiency, quality, speed, and/or customer delight have two important things in common:
  1. They generally produce some improvements
  2. Then they peter out

For an organization to go through a cultural change so that continuous improvement becomes the new way of working (not just a one-time ‘program’), we need to pay close attention to the ‘soft’ part of the improvement model.

This will enable us to smooth the path, remove the obstacles, and continue to lead, communicate, and motivate both emotionally and intellectually.
Following are six common causes of discontinuous improvement:
  1. Neglecting aligning individual or team goals with those of the organization
  2. Insufficient communication between management, the workforce, project teams and CI leaders
  3. Delegating leadership, which is a responsibility that should stay with senior management
  4. Manager’s or Sponsor’s failure to remove obstacles
  5. Lack of quick success
  6. Letting-up on the “gas” when initial results are made

Continuous Improvement & Snow Cones?

In an earlier post, we shared six common reasons why so many continuous improvement efforts fail to be continuous.

This discontinuous improvement concept was nicely described in a recent LinkedIn post by KaiNexus, an improvement software company based in Texas, in which they compare an organization’s improvement effort to a snow cone… if you neglect it, it will melt!

People at all levels are likely to agree that continuous improvement is a good thing —“Always getting better is overrated, said nobody, ever,” the post jokes.

But no matter what you call it or which specific method predominates (i.e., Lean, Six Sigma, CPI, TQM, etc.), a high percentage of initiatives aimed at gaining greater efficiency, quality, speed, and/or customer delight have two important things in common:

  • They generally produce some improvements
  • Then they peter out

Solutions?
The key to solving this problem is effective leadership. Simply stated, while a culture of continuous improvement must involve people at all levels, it must also start at the top.

If leadership maintains a constant vigilance over alignment, an early pursuit of quick wins, a determination to identify and remove obstacles, and consistent, effective communication of the vision, strategy, successes, and next opportunities, then improvements can continue forever.

See related article…