Continuous Improvement Part 1: A Culture of Change and Results

ODonnellI often wonder: Why does Continuous Improvement work in some organizations and not in others? I think the difference must be the organization’s culture and acceptance to change.

Management is crucial in changing and maintaining culture. At its best management encourages change, and at its worst resists or blocks change. Here are some of the change-resisting cliché responses we at MAGNET sometimes hear:

  1. That won’t work here.
  2. We tried that before, but it didn’t work.
  3. The initial results were impressive, but were not sustainable.

Here’s the kind of response that tells us a project is going to be successful: “Management encourages change and ongoing results.”

A systems approach

For Continuous Improvement to be effective and sustainable, it requires a systems approach involving the entire organization. Management should guide the organization in four fundamental areas, to ensure success:

  1. Purpose – maximizing customer value;
  2. Process – continually improving speed and defects for factory and office;
  3. People – involving people in improving the process, providing knowledge and tools; and
  4. Sustainable culture – encouraging change, communicating success and results.

Although knowledge and tools are important to implementation and results, they are not sufficient to ensure sustainability. Many organizations, hungry for quick fixes, focus heavily on tools and achieve short term results, but no long term impact.

“The attraction of tools is that they can be employed at many points within an organization, often by staff improvement teams … it’s understandable that lean tools came to the foreground – 5S, setup reduction, the five whys … value-stream maps, kanban, and kaizen … But just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, we need a clear vision of our organizational objectives and better management methods before we pick up our lean tools.”
—Jim Womack, “The Challenge of Lean Transformation“, BPTrends, January 2007

Tell us about your project

Has your company experienced sustained improved business results from your Continuous Improvement Initiative (Lean, Six Sigma, etc.)?

We’re interested in hearing about you and your organization’s Continuous Improvement results and culture. Comment below or email me at

Let us know what is working and what is not.

Posted by MAGNET Ohio in Leadership, Lean-For-Business-Administration, Lean-For-Manufacturing, Process-Improvement

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