Continuous improvement methodologies are being introduced in more and more organisations. This is becoming a natural state for many businesses, as management and staff are trained and used to managing projects.
Understanding the shift in mindset needed to carry out a process of continuous improvement is therefore now increasingly important. Here are the differences you need to be aware of:
Change as a one-time project: Typically, staff members run a project through which they deal with a one-time event. They define, study the impact, prepare, implement and provide aftercare. The project can run for a long time and the impact to the organization is large. However, the success rate, as highlighted by independent studies, is often not more than 30% for individual projects. This form of change management is most often witnessed in IT implementations, mergers, takeovers, spin-offs, re-organisations, scale-downs, lay-offs and starting new business lines, etc.
Continuous improvement: Applicable for all of the same business issues. However, instead of running it as a one-time project by a staff bureau, it is done via small incremental steps, bottom-up and by the operational teams themselves. It is dependent on small steps, constantly learning what the benefits are for each change, making adjustments and initiating new next steps.
Why does continuous improvement work better?
- A single project has a hit-or-miss chance, whereas a continuous improvement approach will work with small incremental steps where adjustments help to achieve a higher success rate.
- Continuous improvement approaches ensure operational teams are more involved. As a result, the end situation is more likely to fit with actual operational practices.
- Because of the higher involvement typical for a continuous improvement approach, resistance to change is significantly less.
- Projects often fail/have difficulty when little-known situations arise during operations. For continuous improvement projects involving teams, these unknown situations - or exceptions - are better identified and done so earlier, significantly increasing the success rate.
- Where projects go through phases, they are based on the unrealistic assumption that the organisation and the situation does not change during the time that the project runs. The project is based on the situation as found during the preparation and analysis phases. Especially with projects that run for a long time, like large, new custom IT systems, new solutions are already partially outdated by the time they are ready. Conversely, continuous improvement approaches constantly adjust to the changing situation and environment
- The more an organisation adopts a continuous improvement mindset, the more it will turn into an agile organisation. As a result, it will be better able to deal with expectancies from both the inside and the outside.
- Where people seem to resist change, that is often true for change that is directed from the top. People are often enthusiastic about improving their own work and staying up-to-speed with new developments - a key premise of continuous improvement.
Example - City of Staphorst, Netherlands
Here we offer an example of continuous improvement in practice, as seen by our partner NCOD. Consultant Dave Schut was working with the Permits team of the city of Staphorst and instilled an attitude of continuous improvement into their daily routines. This took place at the same time as the introduction of a new environmental law in The Netherlands.
Whilst many large and small municipalities in the country have faced difficulties in dealing with the requirements of the new law, this has not been the case for the city of Staphorst. Their team is now used to regularly discussing and improving their processes and way of working, meaning they see the change in the law as just another trigger to re-evaluate their operations.
A Guide to Continuous Improvement
Find out more about how continuous improvement works in practice
Read more about the benefits of continuous improvement over one-time projects
Read a range of real-world examples of how businesses have implemented continuous improvement
Download our whitepaper 'From Kaizen to Six Sigma: What process management style is right for you?' to find out more.
You can also learn about the wide range of products we offer, which are tailored to enhance the ability of our partners to deliver clear benefits through a focus on business process management.