In April 2013 Dr. Andreas Freund started a discussion on LinkedIn with the following provocative topic:
Why do continuous improvement initiatives (not projects!) almost always fail to sustain?
In the following weeks he received almost 400 replies and comments from experts all around the world. Many aspects of possible failures while implementing and sustaining Continuous Improvement initiatives were mentioned and intensively discussed. The complete thread of this worth reading discussion you can find here.
Of course, with every new comment also new aspects of this topic were raised and many advices were given how to sustain Continuous Improvement initiatives in it’s various forms like Lean, Six Sigma, TPM and all the other modifications of CI from various industries. But what is really the root cause why continuous improvement initiatives do fail to sustain?
I started a very simple analysis of all the comments by putting possible failure modes mentioned in the comments into categories and then just browsed through all comments and counted the mentions of each category. Of course, this was a little bit subjective and sometimes the one or other category depends on each other or represents a deeper look into the root cause, comparable to the “5 Why’s” technique. But in the end, I think this analysis gives a good overview what were the hot spots in this great discussion.
- A: lack of will, support, commitment and leadership from (senior) management
- B: not right metrics selected, monitored and reviewed (for CI and change)
- C: lack in professional human development / trainings and career pathing
- D: not right and enough resources allocated or available for implementation and projects
- E: lose focus on the bottom line and develop complacency, lose vision
- F: wrong implementation and sustaining CI strategy (for different industries)
- G: quick results / no time for change / no learning organization
- H: focus on people to change, not on the system to change, lack in change management strategy
- I: organizations not organized along their value stream
- J: not igniting passion for CI and change / not empowering people
- K: lack in time and precision for CI project selection
- L: no clear ownership and accountability regarding CI established
- M: cost of CI initiative vs ROI
- N: no critical mass for CI DNA
- O: no redefining of need for CI over the years and adaption to cultural change
- P: lack in execution control systems for CI initiatives
- Q: broken or inconsistent reporting line to senior management
- R: bonuses and salaries not aligned with value stream performance / no incentives for improvements
Although the 80/20 rule for a Pareto Chart is not really applicable here, it makes sense to pick the first four highest bars for a short discussion:
- lack of will, support, commitment and leadership from (senior) management: When you choose a top down approach for implementation of CI, (senior) management has to be fully committed to the strategy behind and has to define and communicate the vision and mission of this approach. This also implicates that management is in the leadership role and should lead by good example, for example becoming one of the first new certified Green Belt, Black Belt, Bronze, Silver, Gold Certified or what ever you name it.
- not right metrics selected, monitored and reviewed (for CI and change): Continuous Improvement and Cultural Change are different to handle compared for example with management of a warehouse or production line. What are the right metrics to measure success of Cultural Change? How can you control progress with these metrics? How are these metrics (and even more the goals) to be transported and communicated to all the employees? There is no recipe for this and therefor it is one of the most challenging aspects in CI for all employees.
- lack in professional human development / trainings and career pathing: What I have observed in many companies is, that the education program for CI (the Belt Certifications, tool trainings etc.) are not connected to “Human Development” department or HR respectively. But many employees want to learn and achieve progress in their job and career. If this is not connected to an HD strategy, this will lead to frustration and will lose focus for CI on a mid or long term range.
- not right and enough resources allocated or available for implementation and projects: Ok, this is a category you will be always confronted with in every business: No time, no capacity for improvement. Some people say, that approx. 1% of “Insiders” is sufficient for a CI organization. I completely disagree. When you also want to target a cultural change, you have to involve every employee. That means a company of 10k employees should consist of 10k problem solvers (on various levels). And in the end, management always means improvement, nothing else. So limiting CI initiatives only to a couple of “Insiders” will fail on the long term perspective
There are many more things to say to this great discussion on LinkedIn, but in the end only this quote remains:
“Management means doing the things right, leadership means doing the right things.”