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What to do when real life doesn't line up with your continuous improvement plans

How many times have you tried to make an improvement in your business and watch it come to nothing?

For many of us real life doesn't resemble our plans. One of the common issues I see is that the way that we want a task to be organised on paper is difficult in reality. The frequent result from this situation is that the improvement grinds to a halt.

So, how do you overcome this situation?

Firstly, accepting that this is quite normal is a good place to start. When you move from 2D (paper) to 3D (reality) the translation might not always be perfect.

Secondly, be willing to learn from your experiences. Embracing the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) cycle is a good strategy here. Over time you will become more effective at deploying change, if you learn from your earlier experiences.

Thirdly, approach your improvement from the principles you are trying to deploy. Let me give you an example here to underline this point.

I sat in on a client's meeting the other day to review the flow of product around a newly established production cell. Before the meeting the product had not been moving in a timely manner and the cell was not adding benefit to the business.

During the meeting an approach to moving the product was agreed by the key members of staff that could make it happen.

The following days did not display the flow that everyone thought was agreed and frustrations started to appear. I was involved with one of the later debates and intervened when the conversation was going in circles around the 'mechanics' of what was planned to happen. I reminded them of the principle they were trying to achieve - flow of product!

After we stepped back as a group, practical options to achieve the principle were put forward. They stopped looking to blame each other and fix the existing (failing) solution. This clarity helped the team to marry up real life with their improvement plan and move forwards.

Iterating the improvement will happen over time and is a natural activity. Real life isn't always as straightforward when compared to your planning activity, but by following the three points above you might find the whole experience a little easier to deal with.


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.