Solving Problems At All Levels

Continual Improvement
for Everyone

Nowadays; it is more difficult than ever to stay successful in the business. This is also true for many large corporations. Start-ups can enter markets easier than ever, and new technologies emerge at a rapid speed. So; no company can actually afford to stay still over a longer period of time. No wonder that continual or continuous improvement is part of many corporate strategies.

Continual improvement with results

Why Continual Improvement for Everyone?

Traditionally, companies run breakthrough projects led by few experts or consulting firms. Therefore, only a small group of the entire staff work on innovation and improvements. Now, imagine that every single person in your corporation contribute to improvements. In this case, the number of projects can raise  to hundreds or thousands per year. Even when most of those initiatives would be small, many small gains sum up in a large impact and financial benefits.

Many small, incremental improvements
sum up into significant business results.

What Does Continual Improvement (CI) Exactly Mean?

Continual improvement, often abbreviated as CI, is about a habit of improving products, services, processes, systems, tools, etc. 

As a result, organisations and their processes are more effective and efficient. Guided by customer needs, continual improvement also increases value for the customers. Likewise, it can reduce hassle for employees and business partners.

Such improvements can be small or big, or anything between. All are part of a continual improvement effort. Not only the breakthrough cross-functional projects, but also small incremental improvements.

Continual or Continuous Improvement?

Both terms – continuous and continual improvement – are used in praxis. In the business world  they are often used as synonyms. Despite of that, there is a difference.

Dictionary.com defines the word “continuous” as “uninterrupted in time; without cessation” (a temporary or complete stopping). On the other hand, the adjective “continual” means “of regular or frequent recurrence; often repeated; very frequent”. At the same time, both terms are viewed also from a linguistic perspective as synonyms.

So, why the thoughts to change continuous improvement into continual? It is desired to implement one improvement after another one, and therefore to keep looking for new better ways of working or functioning. Nevertheless; improving without any reflection and validation if the improvement works or not, is not really optimal. And, to evaluate you need to keep the process running one way for some time. Also, there needs to be a reason for improvement: a problem, an issue or an opportunity to provide more value to the customer, etc. Indeed, when an improvement is implemented, it should result in an increased value for customers, for the company, employees or other key stakeholders. There is a purpose behind. That is why some practitioners, including us, prefer the term continual improvement.

The ISO 9001:2000 standard refers already to continual quality management. The change has been made: from “continuous” meaning non-stop to “continual” implying recurring improvements.

How to Create A True Continual Improvement Culture?

How to change culture?Continual improvement culture means that people of a corporation or organisation has improvements in their DNA. Indeed, in becomes the second nature in our day-to-day work. However, how to get there? And, how to orchestrate the continual improvement effort to ensure it generates the desired results? Here are some key success factors from our praxis.

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” 

— Peter Drucker

Getting the Right Organisational Climate

First, create – and continue fostering! – an environment for your people to see improvements as opportunities. If needed, please clean up the corporate climate from disruptive behaviour, fears and alike. 

Let’s explore one of such anxiety feelings as an example. 

One of the typical employee concerns is loosing the job because of efficiency gains. The fact is that by improving, the benefits often are also related to productivity. And, productivity increase might mean that some jobs are not needed any more. So, why should people put an effort into improvements? To give a good reason to people to participate on the continual improvement effort, we do need to answer this question! And yes, openness coupled with a viable and attractive plan, will make us as professionals hooked.

Leading by Examples

Secondly, as a leader get engaged! When your team see that you are rolling up the sleeves, they will understand that you take the effort seriously and you care. Frequently, they will care too!

What can you do? In addition to providing answers to some questions mentioned above, you can join a training course as well and get engaged in the first improvement initiatives. In any case, consider helping your people to solve a really tough issue for them. After that, you can keep monitoring the improvement effort and help wherever needed.

Are you interested to know how other organisations dealt with installing a true continual improvement culture? Then, get in touch with us!

Building Up Competencies

Nowadays; leaders are aware that the training alone will not bring the needed competencies. Despite of that; we certainly need a methodology to turn an idea into a solution that works. Ideally, the approach is as simple and effective as possible and standardised for the entire company. There might be more methods to tackle different type of improvement opportunities. Often, a half-a-day course is sufficient to get started. 

To use the tools and methods learned in the classroom effectively, we need a practice. So, best is to  apply learning right away on solving a real-life problem and installing a respective improvement. To master the problem solving competencies, companies assist their employees through a coach. A coach or a mentor is an experienced professional as a sparing partner. In the long run, team leaders and managers are predestinate for this role. They become coaches and ambassadors for continual improvement. Initially, also the leaders learn faster with an experienced consultant.

Explore our Coaching and Mentoring offerings.

Looking for a coach to assist your leaders to foster a continual improvement culture? Then, give us a call!

There are many improvement methodologies. Let’s mention few of them.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle works well for small, incremental improvements. Alternatively, Kaizen workshops help you to implement improvements within few days or even faster. In Japanese the word Kaizen actually means improvement. In reality, there are different types of Kaizen covering a broader scope of improvement opportunities.

For more complex problems, where the solution is not known in the beginning of the project, works very well Six Sigma with its DMAIC framework. When you need to develop new products, processes or systems, look into the Design for Six Sigma (DFSS). 

Find out more about our problem solving courses.

Demonstrating Results

Continual improvement takes time and effort of those involved. So; many (if not all) of us want to see that it is meaningful. Managers want to see results, front-end professionals and subject-matter-experts want to also see that some overburdens and frustrations in their jobs disappear. With other words, we all need to get some good work done! 

So, sharing successful improvements and tracking the improved performance and financial gains from the continual improvement effort help to demonstrate the results.

Accepting That You Are On a Journey

Accepting and mastering a new way of working especially by a larger group of people does take time. We speak about a cultural change. Big changes require multiple steps to climb. And, a behaviour change towards continual improvement is often a BIG one! For this reason good climbers always look around prior considering the next step. Same is true with continual improvement cultures. You will discover better ways of embracing it that you used yesterday. With other words, it takes some time to find the most optimal approach for a given organisation. Not to mention, that even for the same organisation different things work better in a certain time. As you mature with CI, new venues for your journey will open up. 

Therefore; learning from mistakes and continually (not continuously!) improving also the way we handle improvements is critical. Indeed, it pays off to reflect and continue improving also management processes. Including the continual improvement effort!

“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow.” 

— Mary Tyler Moore

Keeping Up the Spirit

team celebrating a success
Team celebrating

Often it is harder to keep the ball rolling than to get it moved. With other words, after practising improving our way of working for a while, we need to “spice it up”. So, let’s at least keep improvements on the agenda of regular meetings, and celebrate and reward the success. Don’t be afraid to integrate some games and competition among teams. 

Good luck and lots of fun with your continual improvement journeys!

What Are Some of the Roadblocks?

Nowadays; it is more difficult than ever to remain successful in the business. No company can afford to stay still over a long period of time. No wonder that corporations aim to integrate continual improvement into their DNAs. Still; engaging everyone into improvements is not an easy task. What are the major struggles based on your experience? 

Share your opinion with others, and in the end of this short survey see the latest results from our poll!

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