CI Boot Camp Beyond Tools and Techniques

(this is also featured at LinkedIn’s Pulse)

You’ve probably also noticed numerous discussions in the various communities that all ask the same basic question: why do our ______efforts fail? I took that to task in Earth to Big Thinkers a while ago, am targeting continuous improvement (CI) specifically here.

My formal CI training and practitioner experience goes back to the middle 90’s with SPC, early TQM and just-in-time, evolving more recently to leansigma, ISO and Baldrige management systems, performance excellence and engagement theory. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a good deal of hands-on systems design and implementation support via training, project team facilitation and follow-up.

To me there are essentials that are too often not considered, a layer underneath the mechanics, toolbox and techniques of continuous improvement: the human and organizational dynamics of CI. Please add your own to my short list of success factors that are too often forgotten:

  1. Deming’s public enemy number one was variation. Goal: consistency in process and outputs, but also in methods. In the spirit of standard work, the framework of a formal approach to continuous improvement is a necessity. People need to speak the same language;
  2. The most direct path to results starts at the ground level. Like anything, a strong foundation allows an enduring structure to be built. Informing and educating helps to achieve buy-in, making it much easier to involve the right people, give them the right tools, then facilitate their progress toward improving the way they do their work;
  3. Change management rules apply! The standard list of questions people have when faced with doing something new or different: what exactly is involved? Why do we have to change this? How does this affect me? Why should I care? What if I don’t want to do this differently? Have real and plausible answers ready ahead of time and make sure they are part of the foundational work;
  4. The same as 5-S, the first few steps are a cake walk compared standardizing and sustaining improvement. It’s human nature to backslide to the comfortable way of doing things when nobody is looking. People tend to hunker down in their foxholes, thinking “this too shall pass” if they keep their heads down. Controls and measures must be implemented and the improvements verified for effectiveness on an ongoing basis.
  5. Direct in-process communication, ongoing communication of project status and results and then follow-up from leadership with improvement teams provides encouragement along the way and reinforces the new way of doing things. Let people know “we’re really paying attention to what you’re doing, and we appreciate what you’ve done!”
  6. As noted in “Earth to Big Thinkers” simplicity must be the standard. An over-abundance of theories, tools and application methods makes it easy to over-complicate continuous improvement. It is what it is…CI experts are more highly valued the more formal certifications they possess, and their expert status is generally viewed more favorably by leaders the more technical and detail-intensive the reports and results are. But CI lives and dies at the non-expert level, in the hearts, heads and hands of the do-ers.
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