Organisations often have large projects for implementing new IT systems, for outsourcing functions of their business, for mergers with other organisations, as well as for improving an order or production line, etc.
As a result, many such activities are carried out as a one-off project: a project manager takes charge of specified phases through which the project is run, such as target setting, set up of the project team, design phase, preparation, execution, testing and implementation.
However, with the growing introduction of Lean principles during the past 20 years, many organisations have now started to implement elements of continuous improvement into their operations.
This is something we suggest all business now embrace; doing away with the one-off, large project and instead taking a continuous improvement approach.
- With a one-time project approach you go from an old situation to a new situation. The (business) environment around us, however, does not take such one-at-a-time steps. The situation around us gradually evolves. A continuous improvement approach fits better with the situation around you.
- This is also true for the transition period itself. A company that has a two-year digital transition timeframe for implementing a new ERP system, for example, will experience new wishes, demands, thoughts on the project throughout. Nothing is more frustrating than to learn about new insights and wishes AFTER having concluded a design and preparation phase of your project.
- A change project is never standalone. There are always multiple, simultaneous projects and programmes ongoing within an organisation. When these are managed as one-time projects, it becomes very difficult/impossible to correlate them to each other. You could end up introducing new systems to your organisation that are no longer fit for purpose.
- Personal involvement is a driver for success in any transformation project. However, getting people involved in a one-time project is often difficult; they will see it as 'extra' to their regular workload, and something difficult to assign time to. This is often solved by freeing people up from their regular work and assigning them to the project for a period of time. As a consequence, the project team will no longer be involved in the 'regular' work and will be disconnected from the changing reality of your business' situation.
- A continuous improvement effort on the other hand, can be integrated in the 'normal work', preferably via customer-oriented processes of the organisation. Through this approach - the combination of organising your activities in processes and implementing continuous improvement - you will guarantee that any improvement fits well with the activities of the organisation.
- One-time projects are disruptive to the responsible/project team members as well. They are assigned to the project for some time. After its completion, due to the fact they were taken out of their regular operations, is there still the same work/responsibilities for them?
- More importantly, most people cannot oversee the end-to-end operation of a large project, which will limit their involvement.
- Getting a new idea, system or way of working implemented is always difficult. How do you get the team to buy-in to these changes? As seen in Lean, 6 Sigma and Kaizen, we have learned that supporting gradual change works more easily and with less resistance.
- Positive impulse - people always like new things/improvements. A one-time, big bang project brings a one-off celebration at its end, whereas a continuous improvement approach will bring improvements and positive feeling over a much longer period.
- Many projects must get underway before the surrounding systems, laws, requirements, etc are complete and are ready for the change to be implemented that is planned. So, when do you start? In a continuous improvement approach you can start gradually and pick up the pace of change as needed, reacting to new initiatives when the surrounding systems, laws, requirements, etc are clear.
- One-time projects are often disruptive to business' culture. There is chaos during the project, and after, the organisation needs to find out how to get back on track, given the new system. A continuous improvement approach, however, allows you to add dynamics to the culture as it becomes more agile. There is no one-time disruption, but a gradual growth and improvement.
- One-time projects have a tendency to run over budget. The impact of the project is often underestimated and once it is started, there is no way back. A continuous improvement culture allows you to continuously evaluate, re-evaluate, increase or lower the budget in response to the organisation's needs.
Continuous improvement approaches have a much higher rate of success, are less disruptive, can be controlled more easily from a financial standpoint and are longer lasting than one-time projects.
Find out more about continuous improvement in general
How can continuous improvement help your business overcome the challenges it faces?
Find out more about how continuous improvement works in practice
Download our whitepaper 'From Kaizen to Six Sigma: What process management style is right for you?' to find out more.
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