Have a Successful Continuous Improvement Program: Mistakes to Avoid

Poor Change Management:

We have looked at the importance of change management to successful continuous improvement programs in previous posts. Any successful continuous improvement initiative needs significant change management. The reason Lean was so successful at Toyota was because of the commitment of the executive leadership to implement a company-wide quality initiative. Likewise, GE’s success with Six Sigma is also because of Jack Welch’s visible commitment to the methodology. It is almost impossible to change a company’s culture and get people to adapt to a Six Sigma or Lean methodology and get projects completed successfully without managing change.

The other reason this has become so important is because of some of the press around Six Sigma and Lean that touts these initiatives as tools for reducing workforce and cutting costs. This makes it even more difficult to get the support and participation from the people who do the actual work and drive process improvements. However, there are many companies out there with a somewhat functional continuous improvement program without real focus on managing change that needs to go hand-in-hand with both the program as well as individual continuous improvement projects. This usually leads to sub-optimal results and these companies never see the full benefit of a Six Sigma or Lean program. In extreme cases, a company might not even be ready to embrace a continuous improvement program and the lack of a proper assessment of change readiness will lead to failure of the initiative even before it is deployed.

Reward and recognition mechanisms are also key change management attributes, and yet many companies that have a formal continuous improvement program in place do not have any formal reward and recognition program in place.

Improper Selection of Projects, Forcing Tools to Solve the Problem:

Most readers would be familiar with Abraham Maslow’s famous quote around treating every problem as a nail when the only tool available is a hammer. Sadly this analogy holds true for many companies where continuous improvement initiatives have failed to take off. We have seen companies that launch a Six Sigma or Lean program with senior leadership’s support but cannot show results because they are forcing all business problems to be tackled using the selected methodology. These companies end up spending valuable time and resources in training and building the capability but fail to execute on the projects. And the root cause for the failure is simple–those projects were just not suited to the methodology selected.