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The key components of a sustainable continuous improvement system

The key components of a sustainable continuous improvement system

In a previous blog post we discussed the integrative route to business transformation and how an integrative improvement system can help build sustainable advantage across an organisation’s end-to-end value chain. In this post we look at the three key components such a system combines to effectively drive real transformation and step change.

Since the introduction of Lean Manufacturing to the West in 1990 by Womack and Jones, many pundits have extolled its virtues, yet few organisations have seen sustained success as a result of adopting this model. The ones that did experience success have typically undergone long-lasting and significant transformation so as to make this model sustainable.

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 organisation’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 reorganisation 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 organisation should be designed around processes, products and customers. Multifunctional teams optimise processes and value streams to deliver superior products to ‘delighted’ customers. The system must drive this process-based approach and prevent possible suboptimisation 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.

structural components

By investing in a business improvement system that integrates these three key components, organisations can leapfrog many years’ implementation experience to generate exponential savings and competitive advantage substantially sooner than organisations trying to develop this in-house.

DOWNLOAD: The Definitive Guide to Integrative Improvement to find out more about how this approach can drive sustainable competitive advantage for your business.

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