Nothing is more simple than the idea of Continuous Improvement. Nothing at all. And yet, we are all habitual people – doing the same mistakes over and over again. And we are pushing our mistakes out in the world without ever thinking about them and the damage they cause.
The effects of not doing it
And of course this is not good. Lots of useless, unimportant, and annoying things now exist, because nobody cared to see how well they worked in order to correct them. So they are just there, being miserable.
What does it take?
In a company there are procedures, which nobody knows the origin of, nobody understands the reasons for, and nobody cares to improve. There are markings and lines on the floor from something that was once planned and maybe implemented, but nobody knows anymore – do they mean something? Can we put furniture on top of them? And the coffee machine is always out of coffee and you must go far away for another bag, in order to fill it up, so that you can get your coffee. Why is it far away? Nobody knows and nobody cares.
Continuous improvement is about knowing and caring. Most people are capable of both, but quite often we believe that, whatever we might think of improving, is the responsibility of others, “and they should really do something about it”. But if “they” are not doing it, maybe someone needs to take some kind of action? So, continuous improvement is also about taking and showing responsibility. Maybe those others need help – or just a hint that the problem exists. So continuous improvement is also about cooperation.
Knowing, caring, responsibility, cooperation – all good words that I think most people would agree on. They just have to start living these words, and then continuous improvement will appear all by itself.
There are several good ideas available for putting some kind of system into it. PDCA, Plan-Do-Check-Act, is one of the more popular. It is used in Lean and other philosophies and methods, but the originators of Lean, the Japanese factories, which didn’t call it Lean, spoke about the Deming Wheel or Deming Cycle due to their memory of W. Edwards Deming telling them about, well, what had a different original idea (Design-Production-Sales-Research) but would become exactly the Deming Cycle. Deming himself called it the Shewart cycle. And other good names exist, but in any case PDCA is a very simple thing – as simple as continuous improvement. And easy to learn and understand.
Most big changes fail
They do so because people up-front try to define and specify a lot of things they do not know about, do not understand, and do not agree upon. A big mess, really. And then a huge project or change process is designed to implement this mess. And, surprise, the result usually becomes – a mess!
Selecting the “right” project management or change management method or framework just makes the process look more professionel – during some time, at least, until it is clear to everybody that this is going to fail. Unless, of course, you have been lucky to find the Philosopher’s Stone, which will let you do magic!
Most small changes succeed
In most cases, taking one step at a time will bring the traveller to the goal. Trying to take seven-mile steps only works in the fairy tales. And one step should be followed by observing the results, making corrections and deciding and planning for the next step – and so on.
During the trip the traveller might change direction, step back now and then or stop and wait for a while. All based on observations/measurements and considerations/analyses, followed by planning and then doing, in an eternal cycle.
We all know how to travel one step at a time, don’t we? Do we know how to move seven miles in one step? I think this is all we need to ask for choosing continuous improvement over big bang approaches.
Disclaimer: When sending someone to the Moon, please do not just send them a short distance and then consider what to do next! There are situations where the full trip must be considered in every step before even deciding on taking the first one. And in those situations we know that it can fail and we just have to accept the fact.