Skip to main content

Continuous Improvement; direction and progress is more important than perfection!

When I speak to managers about their continuous improvement programmes there is a common concern. ‘Am I doing it right?’ is the question that they often ask me. There seems to be a common belief that there is a right way to do continuous improvement. There isn’t. There are lots of ways to make it better, but there isn’t a single one right way to carry out continuous improvement.

Note – over time you will likely find ways that work well for your organisation in terms of how you manage change. This can become your one best way to implement continuous improvement projects. But if you haven’t got there yet, don’t worry! The Standard Operating Procedure for making change happen in your business can come later.

A path with unexpected turns

One of the joys of continuous improvement is the learning that can take place. The journey is full of twists and turns. People are unpredictable and that can bring with it new ideas and difficulties. 

Learning from these as you undertake your continuous improvement projects will make you better at handling future projects.

At the outset continuous improvement can be difficult. Every difficulty is an opportunity to improve. Your planning will improve. Your communication will improve. Your knowledge about your business and its process will improve. Your team working will improve. If you embrace the learning that comes along with your projects you will become better and in the long term that means better results from your improvements.

Involving other people, from across your business, adds in new perspectives which can help you to identify additional improvements. Take the rough of the unchartered course with the smooth of having lots of improvement opportunities to deal with.

Frameworks are good, but they’re frameworks

There are a lot of improvement frameworks available to us. They give clues as to how you could conduct a continuous improvement programme, but it is your approach that is most important in the long term. These comments are not designed to devalue improvement frameworks, they can add some real value to a business when kept in context.

Improvement frameworks provide structure to facilitate conversations and projects. You will need some structure to help move things along, but it doesn’t need to be a rigid structure. Knowing how you want an improvement to proceed and mapping it out is enough for most businesses.

When it comes to making change happen it is your team, your content and your plan. Get yourself a framework if you feel it will help you. If you want to do your own thing then do your own thing.

Take the bits you like from existing frameworks and create a variation. The aim of continuous improvement is to make things better. I think that in the longer term businesses have to move to structured improvement, but if it is early days for you then don’t get hung up on the approach.

Doing it right versus doing something

If you get hung up on carrying out your continuous improvements perfectly you are unlikely to make the level of progress you could. If you aren’t entirely sure how an improvement methodology works (and have no reasonably immediate way of finding out) then what do you do?

You could stop and do nothing. You could accept that you are stuck and watch the improvement fizzle out.

Or, you could do something and risk making progress. Imperfect action is often the right thing to do and can take you a long way along the journey of change. If you are fully engaged with the change process then you should find that you learn a lot with imperfect action. As you learn more you can improve and it is likely that pieces of the jigsaw puzzle will fall into place.

I have seen many intelligent people get stuck because they try to ‘get it right’. Consequently they are slow and sluggish at making change happen. This slowness then gets in the way of their day to day job and becomes resented. Very quickly these people stop actively engaging with continuous improvement.

Don’t worry about doing things right and instead focus on making change happen. Perfection can come later.

Getting results in a healthy manner is what counts

What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t follow a perfect continuous improvement scheme, or path?

The worst is that you have learned something that will make you better next time around. Most likely you will have learned a great deal and made some positive changes. Even the things that haven’t gone well can be improved. Bridges can be re-built and working relationships strengthened.

It is more likely that you will make a whole load of business activities better with a few bumps along the way. You will have made progress that you can celebrate with your team. You will all have learned something and you will probably now be in a better place to shape your continuous improvement approach going forward.

There is nothing to worry about when reflecting on your journey. There is no one perfect route and things will occasionally be difficult and go wrong periodically. Sounds a lot like life in general!

If you feel this way then relax. Reflect on this article, look in the mirror and decide what you think would work best for you and your business. Instinctively you will know how to proceed; planning will only get you so far. Action must happen at some point in order for change to manifest.

Enjoy the journey. If you embrace it properly you won’t be the same person afterwards!


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.

Popular posts from this blog

Stop firefighting, start performing!

Another weeks passes and another example of unnecessary fire fighting demonstrated by a business I have been to help. If you have this taking place in your business, let me ask you a few questions: 1. What keeps on happening? Regain control with this practical book Can you pin down what it is that you keep having to do, to get out of trouble? If you can't, is there a pattern you can observe? 2. Do you want it to stop? Is it causing you enough of a problem that you want it to stop? If the answer is yes, keep reading, if not park it for another day. 3. Find out what is going on Do you know why you are having this issue? If you aren't sure where the issue is arising from, then take a few minutes to have a look around. When you have some idea, go to the next step. 4. Cause and effect Do you know what is truly causing the fire fighting situation? If you spend the time to get to the root cause of the situation , you have a good chance of permanently eliminating this situation. Most p

Kaizen improvements need to be specific

Do you find that your Kaizen improvements don't always go to plan? If you do, then you're with the majority! Whilst there is great deal of 'trial and error' there is a simple approach that can help. Available from Amazon Being specific about critical parts of your improvement can uplift your results. So, how do you go about doing this? The most direct route is to be clear about which parts of your improvement are critical. From here you can explain, in detail, what you want for those items. This might take some practice as many of us have become lazy in this regard. We take it for granted that our team 'get us' and will know what they need to do. If you ever feel that something basic is missing from an improvement ask this question: "What does good look like?" The answer should put you back on track. About the author: Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes and

Are your teams clear?

I have recently finished working with a team that were struggling. They were struggling to meet their production schedules. They were struggling to respond to customer enquiries on time. They were burnt out and frazzled. After some prodding and poking it became clear what their issues were. In particular, it became obvious that expectations of the team weren't clear or defined. Defining what you expect from teams is a standard management approach. The problem with most teams is that leadership describe the standards in vague terms . So, what happens if you get the standards crystal clear? You should expect to see the team produce the right outputs. They should produce the outputs at the right time. And, they should produce them in an agreed way. Be clear with your teams. Ask the question: What does good look like? If you want to get some more ideas on how to define effective standards and visions, get your copy of my book today . What does good look like? is a practical guide to h