What are the key elements for continuous improvement success?

key elements

The answer to the question of what the keys to a successful lean implementation are depends on who you ask. Most people will say that discipline and determination are key.  Others will include skills, passion, know your goals, and luck.  If you are convinced that lean is the strategy you will use to frame your business decisions, you must know the keys to a successful lean implementation.

The key ingredient for a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture.  But before you go there, you need to ensure that the entire leadership group is singing the same song.   The culture change is not possible unless leadership buy-in and support the transformation.  Leadership defines the organization culture if they don’t change their attitudes and behaviors, success is a dream.  If you are the owner of a small business, you are the person who needs to drive the change and align purpose, process, and people.

The objective of the transformation is to change from traditional thinking to a lean thinking approach.  Changing behaviors and beliefs that have been part of the company’s soul since birth is not an easy task, it is a big challenge.  A fundamental part of the culture change is to care more about people’s motivations, viewpoints, and how to develop their skills.

Communication at every stage is crucial.  People need to know what, why, how, when, and who.  If the current culture is not good with communication, this will be the start.  The team is now your ally, you work to facilitate their work and develop their skills.  The more they know, the more engagement and willingness to help will be.  They need to know what the problem is and what you want to accomplish with a continuous improvement strategy.  Set the tone by including them in the decision-making process.  For example, ask for help to establish the baseline and stretch goals for the implementation.

For effective improvements, your team will need to have the right tools.  An early step is to identify which tools make sense for your operation and train the team.  You can find a responsible person who works with you to design the roadmap to growing the CI culture and identify the tools to support it.  A good start is to review how the current leadership culture has shaped the work environment.  Define the gap between that and where you want to be.  Knowing the current environment, you can create a motivating climate for the lean journey.  You will design a toolbox with the basic tools you will need to support the lean implementation journey.

You would think that there is no need to clarify the frequency of continuous improvement activities. Unfortunately, it does need an explanation.  A common mistake is to believe that it is ok to base the implementation of CI events only. CI events are good, but you need to promote CI thinking every day.  Lead by example every day by looking for waste and ways to eliminate it.  Why are we doing this?  How can we improve it?   Use the culture change to promote daily improvement activities and events as training opportunities.

Consistency is very important; you cannot change the framework to make decisions every time something is not working.  Regardless of how challenging the problems are, keep using lean thinking.  Leadership is responsible for creating and modeling culture.  Your employees will be watching, they will do what you do, not what you say.  If you go back to your old ways, they will too.  When problems arise, go where the action happens, go, and see.  Observe and ask why, ask your team for ideas, try something new, and measure the effect.  Make from every situation an opportunity to learn, and always celebrate the wins!  Continuous improvement is everybody’s job, every day, everywhere.

In summary, the following are the five key elements for a successful continuous improvement or lean implementation:

  1. Leadership buy-in and support
  2. Culture change to lean thinking & people’s development
  3. Effective Communication every step of the way
  4. Use the right CI tools, create your own toolbox
  5. Continuous improvement everywhere, every day, by everybody

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