Skip to main content

Getting Continuous Improvement Moving Faster and More Effectively

I sit in a lot of meetings where people talk about their continuous improvement projects. Sitting and talking doesn’t always equate to getting the changes put into effect and that’s what we need; the results count for everything.

So, is there a simple way to help move projects from being stuck, delayed and appearing to wait for a perfect plan (or time)?

The short answer is yes, and it revolves around our old friend the ‘80/20’ rule.

Can you remember the 80/20 rule?

This is the simple principle that states that a small number of inputs leads to a disproportionately large amount of rules. A little bit can go a long way, if you choose the right things to focus on.

The opposite of this is also true; a lot of things can take a lot of time / effort / resources and yield very little in terms of overall results.

The pareto principle (80/20 rule)
The 80/20 rule (or Pareto principle) - a little bit of the right stuff can produce a lot of results!

Phase 1 – quick wins and focus on the 20% that gives the 80% of results

To get your continuous improvement projects moving quicker, and more effectively, identify the 20% of your project tasks that will give you the bulk of the results in way that you can test them.

Take the handful of elements of your project that will get you some results that you can measure and create a pilot plan. Don’t worry about perfection here but do make sure that the pilot is as risk free as possible.

Creating an improvement pilot using the 80/20 rule
Create a first phase of improvement by isolating the powerful 20% of project elements

Phase 2 – develop the idea, roll out and crystallise

Once your pilot has been successful and you have realised the bulk of the benefits it is time to close down the project. Writing Standard Operating Procedures, developing routines, adjusting your Key Performance Indicators, rolling out the ideas and training the team all fit into the second phase.

I am not trying to downplay the importance of finishing off projects; if you don’t do these things then you will likely regress at some point and lose the benefits you had planned for. (In another sphere, writing the SOPs and developing the KPIs is the 20% that can give you the results, just not in this example!) I want you to be able to move fast, test your ideas and improve at an optimal rate.

Streamline the 80% as much as you can, of course.

Finish the project by scheduling the other 80% of tasks
Finish the project by scheduling the other 80% of tasks

What obstacles are you putting in your own way?

Making change happen isn’t straightforward. If it was I wouldn’t write about it! This approach, using the 80/20 rule to create fast pilots, can be really useful if you find your improvement projects languishing and never making a real difference to your business’ performance levels.

Play with the idea and see what version of the above you can come up with that suits your style and business needs.

Keep moving,


About the author Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes. Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.