Poor success rates among organisations that engage in continuous improvement (CI) continue to bedevil many initiatives and good intentions.

A 2010 survey of US companies engaged in some form of continuous improvment activity re-iterated existing evidence from various other sources. More than half of those surveyed claimed their CI programs produced only "minimal" financial impact and over two thirds felt their CI programs required "re-evaluation" or a "complete restart".  Another study found that only 20% of organizations reported "success" with their change management programs and 63% believed the improvements were only temporary while  17% reported no improvement at all!  Contact Harmona for more details.

Start with "What" needs to Improve....

It may seem glaringly obvious but to optimise the chances of improvement success it's important to focus on what the organisation is planning (or at least hoping) to improve as part of it's CI efforts from the outset.

Despite this we frequently encounter programs that are too focused on how they are going to go about improvements (the methodology – lean, six sigma, process excellence tools, models, etc.) to the detriment of what they’re aiming to improve.

The evidence of this “imbalance” is often revealed in the measures used to evaluate the CI program –  too much emphasis on enablers or inputs - activities such as the numbers of people trained in lean or six sigma, the number of yellow or green belts, improvement events conducted, waste walks undertaken, etc. - to the detriment of measures of outcomes - the actual improvements made and benefits realised.

Successful improvement programs need to strike the right balance - the need to deliver and demonstate improved results over a period a time – outcomes - through learning and engaging relevant continuous improvement principles and tools - the enablers.  

Both enablers and outcomes are interlinked but any improvement program that cannot consistently report in specific terms on previous and current improvements hardly satisfies the criteria for a successful improvement program?

Developing regularly updated, benefits realised “scorecards” that track improved results (sample below) helps to retain the right focus. 

Continuous Improvement & Successful Change Management ....

Organisations that fail to adequately integrate improvement outcomes into their CI programs are effectively ignoring one of the cardinal rules of successful change management – defining the “case for change” or the “case for improvement”.

Change management research consistently highlights the importance of clearly establishing the “case for change” to increase the likelihood of change success.

CI programs that are rooted in some identified improvement opportunities - the what -  are effectively establishing their “case for improvement” from the outsetand are more likely to succeed. 

Initial opportunities may be broad, vague or even aspirational to begin with. Regardless - they still provide the context and general business case for applying CI tools and principles in the organisation. 

Additional improvement opportunities should emerge as learning about CI improvement tools and principles progresses - as should better understanding of how to use CI Tools and principles to bring about sustained and substantial improvements.

All CI programs (lean, six sigma, etc) need to be rooted in some identified business opportunities and expectations to create the “case for changeas early as possible.

Otherwise the program is reducing it's chances of success from the outset. 

Harmona supports organisations that are committed to bringing about substantial successful, continuous change and improvement. Increasingly we are being asked to intervene and resuscitate CI programs that are failing to deliver on expectations. For more information contact Greg Moran at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on 353 86 2208532.

Why think Lean?

The quandary that lean poses for many organizations is that if the core lean concepts of value and waste are fully embraced many activities (process steps) that currently absorb much of the time, effort and resources in an organization get called into question (even in excellent organizations - see Porsche later).