How to sustain your continuous improvement efforts

How to sustain your continuous improvement efforts
Executive Summary
Being a ‘good’ organization is no longer good enough. Striving for excellence needs sustained continuous improvement efforts, based on two key success factors. Firstly, it requires a culture change where every employee within the organization, including leadership, is committed to the vision. The other key success factor is a properly executed CI management cycle that recognizes and defines opportunities for improvement, and then selects, manages and monitors the CI projects.


Taking your organization from good to great requires a culture of continuous improvement (CI). However, remaining on this path is where many improvement efforts go awry.

The challenge for leaders and managers is to guide their teams through significant step-change improvements and ensure any gains along the CI journey are maintained. There are two key success factors that enable them to achieve these goals: establishing a CI culture and embracing the CI management cycle.

Establish a CI culture

Every employee needs to share the CI vision of focusing on the customer and making the word ‘improvement’ part of the company’s DNA. It is therefore critical to get your employees committed to and involved in the CI efforts.

However, developing a CI culture is highly challenging for many organizations. The solution lies in leadership commitment. Aligning organizational leaders behind each project and confirming their sponsorship and involvement is one of the most fundamental and important factors affecting sustained continuous improvement. CI involvement is about:

  • leading by doing
  • asking the right questions
  • listening to all ideas
  • regularly reviewing key CI projects and surfacing those that are perceived to be flying ‘under the radar’
  • empowering all employees to make improvements
Embrace the CI management cycle

To make continuous improvement work, the following four steps in the CI management cycle need to be properly executed:

  1. continuous improvement effortsRecognize and define CI projects that enable best-in-class metrics (opportunity recognition). To reap the maximum benefits of CI, it is critical to recognize and define CI projects that enable best-in-class metrics. Ideas for improvement can come from a multitude of sources. They must then be analyzed using criteria agreed in advance. The criteria should be linked to strategic improvement objectives and implementation benefits; for example, reduced lead time, increased capacity, anticipated cost benefit, speed to implement and ease of implementation. Improvements that can have the greatest impact are selected and translated into CI projects.
  2. Build a CI project portfolio that supports the strategy and goals. One of the key assumptions of portfolio management is that there are many more projects identified than the organization can execute. Those doing the selection will want to ensure that only projects that support the strategy and goals are selected. This process can be repeated, with a review and prioritization of the projects as an ongoing activity. Be careful not to take on too many projects initially. A formal project management process can be used to manage and support improvement projects. Projects forming part of the deck will be drawn from a range of sources, including process and value stream mapping as well as structured problem-solving exercises.
  3. Manage projects using appropriate CI tools. Portfolio management organizes a series of improvement projects into a single portfolio consisting of reports that capture action objectives, timelines, accomplishments, resources, risks and other critical factors. Managers can then regularly review entire portfolios and allocate resources appropriately. Portfolio managers (project champions) need to establish business focus and ensure consistent alignment of projects to goals. Remember, all opportunities are not equal. Ultimately, they must be driven by business strategy. In most organizations, projects have to share resources and resources are scarce. Constant review and coordination of resource allocations is one activity that can keep all projects moving forward. We recommend that you focus on projects that will take one to three months to solve.
  4. Monitor the CI project portfolio regularly to remain on the path of improvement. Tracking project status is essential for successful completion, but tracking means more than just data reporting. It is critical to keep everyone on track, which requires champions to be effective at coaching their project teams. The progress of each project should be tracked as it passes through the five DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) phases. Weekly reviews are recommended to maximize the use of the organization’s CI project portfolio. Using metrics and visual management helps to keep CI projects focused on meeting business objectives. Since the purpose of the improvement project is to generate bottom-line improvements, it is important to track the applicable key performance indicators and savings too (usually productivity, quality, cost and delivery).
Visual management as a driver of CI

A visual workplace is one that is easier to manage over time. With techniques that make performance more visible, less time will be needed to identify problems and performance-related issues. And most importantly, visual management makes it easier to drive continuous improvement, the real objective of Lean.

A critical, often overlooked element of visual management is the fact that it should be integrated with the wider organization’s management system. Once visual displays have been created and teams and employees at all levels have visual access to key information, visual management should extend to setting up daily, weekly and monthly routines around these scoreboards.

Establish a CI culture

Continuously improving products and services requires change within the organization. Organizations that are agile in changing and improving normally find it easier to not only stay ahead of the tough competition, but to exceed their customers’ challenging expectations.


This resource has been prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained herein without obtaining specific professional advice. Competitive Capabilities International (CCi) does not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty of care for any consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this resource or for any decision based on it.

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