Endless hours of training go by every week on track fields around the world. The teammates are focused on only one thing getting better for competition; Call it passion, maybe desire or even just the want to claim a gold medal most athletes understand that with every event they must continuously improve to become better.
The definition of Continuous Improvement has been translated many different ways but in general it can be summed up by saying " It is the act of making incremental, consistent improvements or advancements/upgrades to a product or service." Although Continuous Improvement is almost always in one way or another associated with Lean some of the earliest relations of a CI strategy deal directly with Total Quality Management. Total Quality Management is a Strategic approach that focuses on the satisfaction of the "customer" (internal/external). TQM does this by harnessing the support of an organization and relentlessly working to improve; processes, goods, services and even organizational culture.
When we look at the photo of a high jumper shown above we may think; "wow she is jumping quite high!" She is, but as the story becomes revealed we realize that she did not always jump that high, rather the consistent inch by inch improvements are what eventually trained her body to consistently "make the mark."
As with our dedicated high jumper our organizations do the same; it's the relentless pursuit of perfection that we are trying to achieve. Some of the purposes of Continuous Improvement are;
1. To define clear objectives along with metrics to show organizational improvements.
2. To continuously improve processes, services, quality and the culture of organizations
3. To not just "audit" processes but identify the bottlenecks and constraints there in and take action to correct and eliminate those elements of waste.
4. To improve worker satisfaction through the elimination of Muda, Muri and Mura.
5. To empower the organization by empowering the people who work there through involvement and consensus.
In a more general parable, our high jumpers purpose is to jump higher then she did before in an attempt to win a medal. In order to do this she must first look at her overall training and previous competitions to determine where she may have the opportunity to evolve. This is the analysis stage. She may discover that leading up to the jump she simply does not have enough energy to explode and that is affecting her ability to accomplish her objective of jumping higher than before.
After our athlete has analyzed opportunities for the improvement of her objective she will most likely want to attach some key performance indicators to the opportunities she has. These key performance indicators will assist her in measuring how she is performing and plan out the most effective route to "jumping higher." At this stage she is assessing the opportunities at hand. This is a perfect time to do some benchmarking and gather the best possible metrics to shoot for. In the case of our high jumper she may wish to use the previous gold medalist in her class or just the best jumper in general as her benchmarks.
Now that there is a clear view of what we are shooting for and benchmarks to make the objective and metrics tangible we need to plan out how we are going to achieve the objective. We now must plan out who does what, how many resources we need and what our budget for implementation is set at. It is helpful whether it is an organization or a high jumper, to set specific points in your planning to review at. This way you can ensure that you are always moving towards the goal or correct anything that may have pushed you off path.
Last but not least implementation. This for our high jumper is the actual Implementation of the plan. She will always need to be aware and structure some methods of change management. For example with the newly set key performance indicators it is a given that for some time she may be sore from the intense training, well that means her husband should be ready to rub her feet or the team should increase her protein amounts. In an organization this transformation and change management ensures that everyone knows what their roles and responsibilities are and enables them to fulfill them.
In looking at our high jumper we can realize that Continuous Improvement is as simple as learning to jump higher. Through analyzing, assessing, planning and Implementation you can pinpoint where improvement is needed and create executable plans for implementation. Remember though Continuous Improvement is no different than our high jumper, Small, incremental and consistent repetition can leave you looking back on huge results.
"Through Small and Simple things, Great things come to Pass."