The key components of a sustainable continuous improvement system
Sustainable continuous improvement requires engagement at all levels as well as a robust management system that addresses the long-term, incremental nature of culture-based change. Such a system requires three key structural components to effectively drive the transformation process – maturity-based transformation, functional integration, and sustainability through a three-tiered system.
Component 1: Maturity-based transformation
There’s no quick-fix approach to changing an organization’s culture. Engaging all employees, developing their skills and competencies to effect process improvements, and the fundamental shift in leadership style from ‘cop to coach’ take effort and time. Transferring process improvement ownership from technical experts to front-line workers requires structural reorganization around lateral processes. Employee skills and knowledge must also be built. We can only hold them accountable as they become competent in every new work element.
An integrative, maturity-based management system needs a three to five-year execution road map and must measure exactly where a particular site or process area is on this journey. Appropriate implementation actions are determined by the evolving maturity of the process area and process-based team, ensuring consistency in the long-term execution plan required by culture-based change.
Component 2: Functional integration
One of the key principles of an integrative improvement approach is that the organization should be designed around processes, products and customers. Multifunctional teams optimize processes and value streams to deliver superior products to ‘delighted’ customers. The system must drive this process-based approach and prevent possible suboptimization of functional improvement approaches. This means that functional improvement requirements (quality, maintenance, demand and supply planning, HR, etc.) and the various continuous improvement methodologies used are on the same platform and are executed simultaneously and in concert with one another.
Component 3: Sustainability through a three-tiered system
Sustainable improvement does not result from the mere application of continuous improvement tools. The introduction of process maps, autonomous maintenance checks, 5Why problem-solving forms, visual scoreboards, and so on are not sustainable without supporting systems and underpinning management principles, systems and tools. A complete integrative improvement approach requires that these principles, systems and tools are ready in all functions to ensure that improvements are sustainable, that the transformation process is managed effectively through a maturity-based system, and that the functional improvement approaches and methodologies are integrated. The long-term nature of the transformation requires a systemic, multidimensional approach to ensure structural, process and behavioural alignment.
The structural components of an effective management system are illustrated below.
By investing in a business improvement system that integrates these three key components, organizations can leapfrog many years’ implementation experience to generate exponential savings and competitive advantage substantially sooner than organizations trying to develop this in-house.