Three keys to an effective continuous improvement program
By Mohamed Saliem
For most executives, the concept of continuous improvement is clear; ongoing improvement of products or processes through incremental changes. Although having a specific methodology is essential to having a successful program, the overwhelming number of approaches (Six Sigma, Lean Management, Lean Six Sigma, Agile Management, etc.) can become a paradox of choice. Regardless of the chosen methodology, the effective implementation of a continuous improvement program is dependent on certain factors which seem basic but are crucial to any successful program; by asking themselves the following questions, executives can quickly assess the effectiveness of their continuous improvement program:
- Is the executive team involved?
Having an executive team which is involved is the first step to ensure that a continuous improvement initiative is successful. More often than not, senior executives are only involved in the initial communication and introduction of new initiatives but this not enough. Because continuous improvement requires a culture change, executives need to act as role models to the rest of the organization in showcasing its importance. Having a committed executive team is also crucial to having an engaged workforce which is directly related to the quality and impact of improvement opportunities identified.
- Is the workforce involved in the identification of opportunities?
Employees are always involved in the implementation of new working methods or process improvement projects but an effective program involves the workforce in the generation of improvement ideas. Managers should have a process in place to solicit ideas from their teams and encourage their participation by ensuring they are recognized and rewarded. Seeing their ideas implemented will give employees a sense of ownership over the whole process and will undoubtedly encourage them to identify opportunities that impact their daily operations and the organization as a whole. Ensuring that feedback is provided to employees who identify opportunities (whether or not they will be implemented) will also go a long way in ensuring the process is sustainable.
- Is the impact showcased to the workforce?
Improvements made need to be documented and their impact communicated to the organization. In doing so, managers ensure that members of their teams are engaged in the process and remain participative. In addition, by planning for this type of communication, the project sponsor can ensure the performance of an initiative is measured through a systematic approach.