Continual improvement (CI) is necessary, we can’t argue with that. Without it, nothing changes. And if nothing changes, you are slowly and surely going backwards or declining, or becoming irrelevant.

So anyone who says CI is a load of garbage is simply relaying their past experience with specific CI or BI (business improvement) initiatives rather than the concept of CI or BI.

These experiences are unfortunate, though often driven by exposure to BI initiatives that are slow, cumbersome, complex, and driven by a zealousness for a specific method of improving rather than the real goal of business improvement – to quickly and continually generate value adding improvements.

The Signs A Rethink Is Necessary

In observing and interacting with more than 200 companies since 2001, I observed patterns across companies where business improvement struggled.

And truth be known, most companies struggle in early years of those initiatives.

There are the characteristics I observed that now tell me a business improvement initiative probably needs to be looked at or it is at risk of disappearing or being replaced with another.

Number 1 – The Number of Employees Being Trained Is Disproportionate to Improvements Being Reported

When you train a lot of people, but there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding rate of completion of formal improvement projects, I know the focus is on training and not execution.

Sheep dipping your company in the language and tools of improvement has never produced results worthy of reporting. This ‘training strategy’ approach nearly always leads to elimination of the BI initiative.

Number 2 – Formal Projects Take Way Too Long to Complete

Of course ‘too long’ is a perception. But after more than a decade of leading projects with a very clear outcome focused approach, I realise today that a project that takes significantly longer than it should might be suffering from the following issues:

(a) Too broad a scope, insufficient focus on exactly what to work on;

(b) Project leader is unable to get the time and resources needed to execute the project;

(c) Project value is questionable or not understood by sponsor or team leader;

(d) Project team leader is trying to use too many improvement tools / the entire roadmap rather than only what’s necessary to get the outcome;

(e) Project team leader does not really know how to apply the most appropriate methodology or tools.

All of these lead to slow project completion.

Number 3 – Bouncing From One Methodology To Another

If a business improvement initiative isn’t moving in the direction it should be, it’s easy to be influenced by another consultant to believe the methodology is wrong and a change to a new methodology is necessary.

I’ve seen companies under-resource a Lean initiative and then be advised that an Agile methodology will be better. That new method seems to produce results when the company resources it correctly and spends a fortune on consultants.

Truth is, all methods will fail if you don’t do certain things, all methods will produce results if you use them appropriately and resource them correctly.

Number 4 – Line Managers Can’t Answer Certain Questions

The red flags appear when a line manager is unable to explain or give answers to certain questions about:

(a) How business improvement connects with their business plan,

(b) Where their improvement focus needs to be right now,

(c) How business improvement actually works in their business,

(d) What their role is in business improvement, and

(e) What legitimate benefits have been returned by by formal business improvement work.

Number 5 – Financial Returns Reported Make Zero Sense to Financial People

The term “business improvement dollars” alludes to the fact that many claimed benefits never really touch the bottom line.

When claimed benefits include sunk costs, funds that are saved but really spent elsewhere, cost avoidance or ‘siloed’ benefits that don’t really move through the value stream; you’ve got a huge problem.

A CEO will never espouse the virtues of an improvement initiative if a finance manager won’t put their hand on their heart and sign off on the $ value BI has contributed to the P&L and/or Balance Sheet.

And this alone puts everything about your initiative at risk.

Number 6 – Business Improvement is a Career Path

Improvement without the business is useless. So when BI becomes the obvious career path for participants, a company is missing an enormous opportunity to develop employees for higher level line management roles.

Companies want BI to be the focus of all line managers and give them the skills to lead it properly so they deliver against their business plans most effectively. BI participation is a necessary element in developing your best future leaders.

Number 7 – Your BI Group is a Training Department

Your focus must be on your core business and executing BI to generate value. BI is not a training strategy and to turn an internal group into a training function often underpins a gradual demise of the function.

Training NEVER generates value! However, the application of it can achieve that so that’s where the focus of a business improvement group must be.

If any of these exist in your organisation’s improvement initiative, be wary. Make sure they are intentional and if not, do something about them.

More Information

This article was written by George Lee Sye, author of PROCESS MASTERY WITH LEAN SIX SIGMA – the best lean six sigma text book in the world today.

Share This