KPI Fire has compiled 12 of the best practices for continuous improvement of the organizations that are thriving in this volatile and evolving business environment. Almost all of us have experienced the same stress test this year—in fact, it’s still ongoing. This year has allowed us to closely examine ourselves, our partners, and our customers. To put it lightly, 2020 was the year of tough love! It presented most organizations with only three options: you can die, you can survive, or you can thrive.

During the current crisis, many businesses have worked faster and better than they dreamed possible at the start of the year. We think maintaining that sense of possibility will be an enduring source of competitive advantage. Very few are waiting for the world to get back to normal. Instead, they are taking the opportunity to think strategically about what they’re up against and have focused on the ability to adapt very quickly to a changing environment. Most companies have embraced the opportunity to rethink their Continuous Improvement efforts and retool their overall operations.

All these organizations have demonstrated the following 12 Steps to Continuous Improvement:

Relentless Communication About Important Goals and Strategies.

As a leader of any company or function, one of the most important duties you can perform is to communicate the important goals and strategies for your team. As you are developing your Operational Excellence program you need to establish clear strategies and goals that can be easily interpreted by the organization. 

At the highest levels your goals might vary based on company strategy, but for most operational excellence programs you can start with these objectives: Reduce Waste, Eliminate Variation, and Prevent Overburden. 

Identify the metrics that matter to your business.

Every business has hundreds or thousands of data points.  Focus on the KEY in Key Performance Indicators. Start with a few simple questions. If you understand which metrics are truly important in your business, you can start to move them in the right direction. 

What is the best number that can represent our performance:

Capture Ideas for Improvement.

When you first launch your Continuous Improvement program you might experience some blank stares or some sideways looks when you tell people that you are looking for ideas for improvement. Initially you might get some interesting ideas. While the success of your program might be measured by your most successful projects, you shouldn’t expect every idea to be a grand slam home run. Be careful not to alienate people who provide ideas that are not “up to your standard” or may not be the kind of project you are looking for. The early stages of building a Continuous Improvement program it is important to make people feel empowered to notice things that can be better, and to empower them to make small changes that can make their jobs easier, or what we referred to as “preventing overburden.”

Manage an Idea Funnel.

One of the primary jobs of a leader is to “Say Yes to the few, and wait to the many.” Once you start to collect ideas  in your Idea Funnel, you should end up with more ideas than your limited CI/OpEx Resources can handle. One of the best tools for determining which ideas should move forward is an Effort vs. Impact matrix.  

Project Initiation is a critically important skill in an organization.

If you want a project to be successful, getting it off to a good start is critical. Some things that should be done very early on in a project is to identify a Project Leader, a Project Sponsor, Create a Charter complete with a description of the Problem or Opportunity, and a Target outcome.   The Leader and the Sponsor should get some early agreement about what needs to be done. The leader will take primary responsibility for pushing the project forward, and the Sponsor plays the role of clearing the path or removing obstacles when the Leader gets stuck.

The best practice for Project Management is a weekly project review.

These reviews can be used to touch base with all of the people responsible for tasks in a project and to keep things moving forward.  Meeting on a regular interval is a much better way to establish follow ups vs milestone based meetings. In milestone based meetings you might schedule a meeting after something is ready.  With time interval based meetings, you might end up meeting again before the deliverable is ready, but at least you will have a chance to make sure it hasn’t been neglected.  Remember, not every project is going to be completed. If a project is really not worth finishing, it is better to meet & make that decision & formally put the project on the shelf, than to have it consume mental energy. 

Develop a Best Practice Library.

A Best Practice Library is a collection of Project Templates and other tools that can be used by your team to expedite the work of an improvement project.  These can include Project Templates, Charter Templates, Report Templates, 5 Whys templates, SIPOC , Voice of Customer Value Stream maps.   

(refer to link for House of Lean for further details about tools) 

Track Improvement Projects.

If you want a sustainable Operational Excellence program accountability is critical.  You need to track the benefits and the costs of your improvement projects.  Some projects might be harder to get exact numbers, but don’t let that stop you.  You might find that the finance team will have some interest in sharpening their pencil on your numbers. This is a good thing if the finance department will get involved in this project accountability. 

Summarize the project data and share it with the organization. 

Nothing breeds success like success. If you can show some successful projects you are likely to get more support, and more ideas for more projects. 

Have a People Continuous Improvement Program

A healthy Continuous Improvement Program can be a great way to partner with the Human Resources department in creating a career path. The best employees are the ones who want to grow and improve themselves. Show them how they can increase their earning potential and their value to the company by getting involved with improvement projects.  Every company needs more people who are inspired to make things better.

Practice “Teach and Train”

Teach and Train new employees on the tools of the Continuous Improvement discipline. If you don’t have a green belt training program, you might want to develop one. Or you can hire a consultant to come in and help you get started.   Training people with a common set of problem solving skills is exactly what you need to develop leaders in your organization.

Align Projects With the Right People

Match people with projects that will capture their own interests AND make the business better.  If you are a highly skilled and very experienced OpEX professional you might not have time for smaller projects.   This funnel of newly trained employees is a great way to increase your throughput for Improvement Projects.