The What and Why of Continual Improvement
Virtually all organizations have made improvements over their lifetime. However, many report that the rate of change you are facing and the challenges it brings seems to be increasing. Is the rate of improvement being made enough to achieve your vision? Do you have the kind of organization that will create it? For example, what is occurring in your organization that keeps you up at night?
Could it be the need to…
- Attract, develop, and retain a high performing workforce?
- Increase the value of products/services to your customers and develop new ones?
- Operate more efficiently– decreasing costs, shortening cycle times, improving quality
- Generate the financial resources needed to grow?
- Deal with change and the influx of technology, regulations, and cultural challenges?
If these do not bring up enough organizational challenges, try the following table. Simply answer the degree to which you agree or disagree.
This is where the need for and importance of continual improvement starts (the “Why” should anyone care) – with closing the gaps between where you are right now and the Vision you have for your stakeholders.
High performing organizations look at problems as opportunities for improvement and progress!
So, what is continual improvement? It is the quest to increase the rate of improvement and benefits in an organization, beyond historical norms and perhaps beyond what is thought possible, to the benefit of your customers, your teams, funders, and society. And, a primary way of achieving its goal is by unlocking the limitless capacity of an organization’s most valued resource – its people.
Many people have heard of or tried a form of continual improvement- quality, lean, six sigma, or other strategies and have achieved some success. There are differences however in these popularized approaches in their purpose, application and content. They are often described and applied differently (and incorrectly) as “a toolkit”, “only for manufacturing”, or “all about cost-cutting”.
When we use the term “continual improvement”, we refer to an integrated model that uses the best of the best of what was learned from the past. It is largely based on 1) the Quality Model and the excellent work of W Edwards Deming who brought us an understanding of the role of leadership in high performing cultures and the use of data to solve problems and 2) the Lean Model, contributed to by many (see “Lean Thinking”, Womack and Jones), which brought us an increased focus on adding value for customers, eliminating waste in our work processes and a host of practical methods to do both and improve performance.
So, how can continual improvement help you and your organization start to close those gaps? Let’s try capturing its purpose and approach in a goal statement…
Next time we’ll start looking at the details – HOW continual improvement works and WHAT BENEFITS and return on investment can be realized.