Implementing Continuous Improvement

Sep 22, 2022

Today I am going to give a quick overview of how to implement a simple continuous improvement protocol. It is one of the best things you can do in your organization. Especially if things are going well.

There are a lot of ways to define continual improvement. Since this is my blog, let’s use mine. “Continual Improvement is a repeating process which makes improvements over time.” Developers may recognize this from Scrum… same thing only applied everywhere.

Have the right expectations

Don’t worry about having a huge impact with changes. I’ve coached people to focus on small improvements. If you can get 1% better each week you will be 52% better by the end of the year, and that ignores the compounding effect.

The suggestions from the C.I. team will reflect improvements to the work they do. They can make small changes to their processes without fear. They will not have the proper view to adjust processes around their department.

Make time for a repeating process

This will not work unless you have a fixed meeting schedule. You need to make it a priority. It can be short, but it must be repeating and consistent. An hour every other week is common, but this will vary by your circumstances.

If you intend to consider improvements when you have free time, you will never get to it.

Create the right meeting environment

It sounds silly but you need to create a safe environment. In short, people need to feel like they can criticize without fear of reprisal. They must also be willing to be vulnerable and accept others feedback on them.

  • The team’s leadership should not be in the room. (1) When they speak it carries a lot of weight and people may not want to disagree. (2) People are hesitant to talk about things that are not going well that the boss may not know about. (3) In some cases, there are sensitive topics that are best not discussed in front of the boss.

  • Have a facilitator (not a leader). They should be from outside the team, or at least able to drive the discussion. They should push the team to make the decisions, not make them for them.

  • Understand Secrecy. What happens in the meeting stays in the meeting. Everyone should have an understanding of what will be communicated after.

Overcome fear and have the hard discussions

Understand this will take time to come up to speed. Trust must be established. A good indicator is if group members can be candid with other members. If the recipient can see that point of view without getting angry… you have established trust.

Meeting format

This is not intended to be prescriptive. I’d recommend trying this a bit to get a good feel for the team. Some teams review performance stats,

  1. Review improvements made last meeting. Talk about how they turned out… keep doing, adjust, or stop. If work from the previous meeting has not started, reconsider it in step 4.

  2. Discuss what has gone well since the last meeting. Talk over how you can extend that strength even farther with more changes.

  3. Talk over what has not gone well. Discuss potential changes to rectify the situation.

  4. Sort the changes in order of preference. The preference can include most impactful, easiest to implement, pain relief etc. Do not fixate on specific sorting rules.

Select the top 1-3 changes from the list. Discuss implementation and commit to implementing them before the next meeting. You will need to implement while still doing your normal job. Also, in a system, if you make many changes at the same time, they could interfere or make measuring difficult.

The artifact from this meeting should define: What change is being made, who is making it, and the expected outcome (how to measure it).

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