People do not like to admit it, but most us can’t keep up with all the different acronyms used in business management. Continuous improvement (CI) is usually applied to any method or process that seeks improvement that is meant to be on-going. Some people feel this is not possible, surely once you have made your best effort to fix a problem, and succeeded, that should be that. I usually manage to change people’s mind on this very quickly by mentioning the various scientific breakthroughs made in human history, and pointing out how unfortunate it would have been for everyone if Newton had decided mechanical philosophy looked fine as it was!
Do we really need CI?
Most businesses and employees feel that they are doing well without a structured improvement process. Problems are fixed as they occur, and everybody does their best. Although this question is meant to stop me in my tracks, I look forward to being asked this in training sessions. It means people are already trying to make changes and that they are passionate about their work. All that is left for me to do is convince them how much more effective it can be to track problems and solutions using data. Then all their hard work and problem solving can be properly acknowledged.
Why bother with data, when I know from experience what the main problems are?
This is a trickier question to answer diplomatically, because your day to day experience of an environment is what makes you blind to many of its problems. Most factories experience this when they prepare for audit and suddenly there are a dozen issues to resolve that weren’t there before. Data allows us to look at a system with unbiased eyes, and will make sure all problems are highlighted including the ones we are so used to they have become normalised.
Why should I care about overall business improvement?
Even the most conscientious employee wants to be sure that their hard work will benefit them. Generally, I have found that a successful program of continuous improvement will always result in clearer expectations of what good/bad looks like, fewer crisis situations to correct and more efficient workspaces. There are few employees who would disagree with the advantage of such changes. In addition, there will be more opportunities to show leadership and learn skills that can enhance career progress. Once this becomes clear, I never get asked this question again.
Surely this is too much to fit into our already busy day?
To this I ask a question in return; Tell me about a typical day in your position? What holds you up and stops you from making progress? The answer is almost always an outline of the very problems the project is seeking to solve.