As the name suggests, continuous improvement (CI) is an ongoing process that requires constant engagement at all levels of the organization. As such, it can feel overwhelming to create and deploy a program that is both effective and enduring.
Fortunately, valuable tools exist to help you deploy a structured continuous improvement model and measure success along the way. Even with these resources, there are still some fundamental concepts that you will need to apply to ensure effectiveness and sustainability.
The 5 Fundamentals
See the forest and the trees. Successful CI requires a dual focus at both an organizational and individual level. Monitoring operational maturity level at the organizational level drives the improvement work undertaken at the individual level. Keeping both the bigger organization and the individual in focus is a key foundation for the other fundamentals.
Keep your team on track. When you understand the maturity profile of the organization and how you want it to evolve over time, you can generate an improvement agenda that aligns with that desired future state. That improvement agenda should include a robust pipeline of discrete improvement projects and an action plan to drive foundational best practices. A clear, well-structured action plan provides direction and guidance to ensure every team member is on track with the organization’s goal.
Create accountability through transparency. It’s important to assign clear ownership for project management and action plan execution. However, simply making ownership explicit isn’t enough. That ownership needs to be made transparent both to the employee and the organization in order to drive true accountability for improvement. Poor collaboration can be detrimental to improvement efforts. Establish transparent ownership to enhance accountability and collaboration.
Monitor outcomes of collective efforts. In keeping with the dual focus concept, the outcomes of your efforts should also be measured and monitored both individually and organizationally. When employees can see how their seemingly isolated tasks fit into the overall improvement agenda of the organization, they stay engaged in the process. There are many benefits to excellent employee engagement. Engaged employees tend to be more productive because they are more vested in the project. The outcomes of the improvement project can also provide a financial basis for continuing CI efforts.
Optimize improvement impact. The improvement agenda also needs to explicitly align to the larger business strategy. A misaligned improvement project, even if successful, may not translate to improvements in overall business operations. Improvement projects aligned with the overall business strategy will provide more tangible results, easily quantifying the value of improvement. Optimize the impact of improvement projects by ensuring they align with business strategies.
A successful continuous improvement model is dependent on having the fundamentals established. Maintain perspective with regard to upper and lower levels of the organization. Ensure that your improvement team is on track with a solid project plan and clear direction. Make ownership transparent to drive true accountability for improvement. Generate engagement by monitoring collective efforts. Align efforts and projects with the business strategy for the best results.
This post was edited and updated for relvance by Brennan White on 10/18/16.