Continuous improvement programs are absolutely vital to the success of an organization. These programs help establish and drive a culture of everyday continuous improvement. They are the heart of the organization that leads the company to finding more efficient ways to perform the work and help drive innovation throughout that company. Even despite our best efforts, continuous improvers need to make some improvements in their own work.

Here are three things continuous improvement professionals should stop doing right now:

1. Using Too Much Jargon

The first thing that continuous improvers need to stop doing is using too much jargon. Continuous improvement comes with its own language and a host of acronyms. We very casually use terms like PDCA, 6S, RIE, Lean and Six Sigma. While these terms are second nature to us, they can be very intimidating and confusing to employees. Often, process improvers are extremely excited to share their knowledge, but inadvertently overwhelm their students with too much technical, complicated language.

Instead of starting with all of the continuous improvement and lean terminology, we need to break things down into a language that the employees can understand. Let’s start by educating them on the basic CI mindset and teach them new approaches to their work. Then we can slowly integrate new terms, tools and techniques that they can use every day.

Learning continuous improvement is just like learning any other new language. We have to start at the beginning with the basics. As we master those basics, we can add on intermediate and eventually advanced tool sets. When we can start to break things down on the employee’s level and use the language that they understand, we can create “buy in” into this continuous improvement culture. So instead of immersing employees in jargon, let’s start with the basics and show them how to apply CI to their daily work.

2. Managing Too Many Projects

Secondly, improvement professionals need to stop spending a majority of time managing projects. Employees working in continuous improvement programs tend to have strong project management skillsets, and as a result, end up managing a lot of projects.

Project management skills are often high demand and low supply. Organizations often have multiple, high profile projects running concurrently, so they look to the continuous improvement team for leadership.

But if a continuous improvement professional is spending all of their time managing big projects, they are not spending enough time growing the skillsets and mentoring others who can lead projects themselves. The power of a continuous improvement professional is to develop others in the organization so that they can go out and lead their own improvement projects. Instead of the 10-person improvement team managing 10 projects, imagine having those 10 people each coach 10 employees. That could result in hundreds of improvements!

We can be far more impactful in an organization if we’re spending most of our time in a teaching, coaching and mentorship role instead of in a project management role.

However, we know that CI-ers leading projects is unavoidable. The reality is that process improvers will continue to manage some major projects. But if they are spending more than 25 or 30% of their time managing projects, reevaluate the team priorities, help the organization develop project management skills, then shift focus to be centered on culture, education and mentorship rather than  on project management.

In our continuous improvement programs, we undervalue our opportunity to use CI to promote growth.

3. Measuring Success Based on Dollars Saved

Finally, continuous improvers must stop measuring success solely based on dollars saved. When a continuous improvement program is established, it’s often in response to a cost-control effort.

In the first several years of a new improvement program, the team can typically find a lot of low hanging fruit, and can save a tremendous amount of money. But as that program matures, 3 or 5 years down the road, savings are harder to find and the pressure mounts. The team starts to get more pressure to cut costs when they should be working on growth, innovation and customer service.

It’s time to make the shift from measuring success by dollars saved to measuring success in KPIs or key performance indicators. If KPIs are not already established, improvement programs should work with their organization to establish them. KPIs can be related to customer service, reliability, quality, speed or efficiency, but need to be focused more on non-financial measures, rather than financial measures.

When the focus is on improving non-financial measures like customer service or quality, naturally the savings will come. Those dollars may come either in reduced costs or in increased revenue or growth opportunities. We significantly undervalue our continuous improvement program’s ability to contribute to growth in the organization. So, start the change now. Shift that focus and start measuring success based on KPIs instead of just dollars saved.

dashboard with metrics

When we can:

  1. Stop using jargon and focus on language the employees understand,
  2. Change our priorities from project management into coaching and mentoring, and
  3. Shift our focus from simply using dollars saved to using key performance indicators

We are going to set our team and our organization up for success.

So, what’s everyone else doing? Join the conversation in our CI Community with a DAM Good Membership.

Author: Allison Greco

Author: Allison Greco

Founder, CII

I created my foundation with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and MBA from the University of Oklahoma. Over the past decade, I have held Continuous and Process Improvement roles for Black Hills Energy, Williams, the US Air Force and BNSF Railway. I’ve started new CI programs and reinvigorated stale ones. Along the way I earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and became a licensed Professional Engineer.