Only by drilling down into that response does the picture often become more opaque. One reason is that we often call efforts to resolve problematic situations ‘improvements’, when in fact they are really problem solving. Fire-fighting today’s problems is of course very different to working on strategic barriers, as is their impact. You need both, of course, but not having enough focus on genuine ‘continuous improvement’ will affect your future competitive and strategic position.
The next important question is “Are you doing enough? The obvious answer is that you can never do enough, but it needs to be considered in parallel with, “Is your improvement effort in the right areas?”
I’m sure this reminds you of the cliché ‘working smarter, not harder’ but in a way it is related. The number of improvement projects or workshops, does not equal a continuous improvement organisation. It is more important to know where the critical needs are in your value streams and processes are and then resource them adequately. Only you as the leader can reflect on this question, knowing the effort expended and the level of structured thought going into selecting the right strategic improvement opportunities.
Selection of where to improve should be centred on what breakthrough (or step-change) improvements need to happen to achieve the stretch strategic goals associated with your vision. This makes a huge difference to success. Thinking about where you need to be to out-perform your competitors, versus focusing on what can be done within your current constraints is incredibly powerful. Without knowing where to increase value in your processes to drive strategic success, any activity is likely to return underwhelming results. After all, the only reason you should be investing in improvement is to earn a healthy ROI.
Recognising if you need to do more, or something different, is the first step to focusing improvement strategically and preventing disappointment later.
4 Step Plan:
- Understand the difference between problem solving and process improvement
- Know the right tools for different types of challenge
- Map your improvement resource
- Scale your efforts – know where and what people are working on and why (is it a ‘flavour-of-the-month’ issue, or a response to a strategic need)
- Level of stretch when defining improvement opportunities
- When working on breakthrough type improvements, the opportunity to grow and increase competitive advantage is much greater.
In summary, when considering investing in improvement, reflect on the following three bullets to improve the success of your implementation.
- Intensity – Is it enough?
- Location – Is it in the right process areas?
- Alignment – Is it aligned to strategic priorities where impact will be greater?
By Gavin Jones, New Potential