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How to Lead Successful Continuous Improvement Projects (CIPs)

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Continuous Improvement

Strategies to Help Your Continuous Improvement Projects (CIPs) Succeed

It is known that Continuous Improvement is critical to success in any business, and it is a fact that many organizations fail at this. To help you avoid these common mistakes, here are some strategies that can help your Continuous Improvement Projects (CIPs) succeed.

The purpose of Continuous Improvement Projects is to produce something better or faster than your current best practice. But how do you start a CIP? Where do you look to get the knowledge and tools to do this?

The answer is to follow a well-defined, structured, and proven methodology. 

Continuous Improvement in the workplace is what it sounds like: You are constantly trying to improve — and it’s not just a one-time thing. It’s a constant. It never ends. If you want to make sure that your Continuous Improvement Projects actually succeed, you need to know how to set goals, how to create effective teams, how to track the data, how to analyze it, and how to make changes based on that analysis.

Continuous Improvement Projects

Assess the Processes

One important thing to understand about Continuous Improvement process is that it requires time. You can’t just go in and change things willy-nilly. You need to assess the processes, identify which processes are causing the most problems, and then make changes based on the analysis.

Determine the Barriers

In planning Continuous Improvement Projects, you need to understand that there are three main components: (1) the problem you’re trying to solve; (2) the obstacles that prevent you from doing something; and (3) the steps that can make it possible to overcome those obstacles.

Once you understand the problem and the obstacles, you can determine the barriers that stand in the way of success. It’s important to determine your biggest obstacle in order to determine the most viable course of action.

Understand the Process Flow

When you’re trying to understand how a process works or why it isn’t working, a good place to start is with a simple test. Take two or three of the steps and run them without the other steps. What happens? If the process flows as expected, what’s different about the steps you skipped?

The answer could be the missing piece in your puzzle that will help you understand how your process flows or why your process isn’t working.

Map Out the Process

A process shows the steps that must be completed in order to accomplish a task or reach a goal. A Process Map lays out the dependencies between the processes. It is a tool that helps the team to better understand how the different processes work together.

When you have a Process Map, you can show that two processes depend on each other and you can see that one task affects another.  The Process Map should also explain the reasons why you are doing what you are doing. This can help you figure out what you should do next.

Define the Outcomes

There’s no right or wrong way to define your desired outcomes for successful Continuous Improvement Projects.

A key thing to remember is that you need to make sure they are clearly defined, so you and everyone else knows what you’re trying to achieve and what results to expect. That way you can all track your progress and know what actions to take next, when you’re ready.

When identifying your Goal, it is imperative to keep in mind the two performance metrics of Successful Continuous Improvement Projects enumerated by Fernando González Aleu & Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes in their book (See González Aleu, F. & Garza-Reyes, J.A., (2020). Leading Continuous Improvement Projects. New York; Taylor & Francis Group, LLC):

  1. achieved or exceeded CIP main goal; and
  2. finished in the time frame proposed.

Plan the Project

After assessing and understanding your processes, and defining your Goal, you need to find out how your processes can be improved. Don’t just change something because it seems like a good idea. Be sure that you have a good understanding of the problem and what is causing it.

After that, you need to make the changes needed to fix the problem. You can’t just change one thing at a time. You need to look at all the steps in the process and then make changes accordingly. This is when you plan your Continuous Improvement Project. 

When planning your CIP, it is best to consider the 4 Categories of factors related to successful Continuous Improvement Projects, according to Fernando González Aleu & Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes (See González Aleu, F. & Garza-Reyes, J.A., (2020). Leading Continuous Improvement Projects. New York; Taylor & Francis Group, LLC), including:

  1. Task Design – these are factors related to CIP goal definition, task area complexity, and task area commitment to Continuous Improvement initiatives.
  2. Team Design – involves the factors related to the process used to select CIP team members and CIP team constitution characteristics.
  3. The CIP Process – includes factors related to the internal processes existing in a CIP team during the execution of a CIP. 
  4. Organization – consists of factors related to the organization profile, tangible and intangible organization resources assigned to Continuous Improvement Projects, leadership, and CIP support.

Implement the Project

When your company has identified what it wants to achieve with a CIP, you can begin to think about how to best accomplish that goal. You might be tempted to start with a list of big ideas that require a lot of time and effort. However, it’s often more effective to start small and then build from there.

Once you’ve gathered the data needed to make decisions about what will work and what won’t, you can scale up your project into a bigger, more ambitious endeavor. It is also helpful to start off by implementing one or two small changes and seeing how those impact your overall results. This lets you see whether any of your changes are having an effect on the bottom line.

Monitor the Project

Monitoring is a step toward Continuous Improvement, your project team should evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and see where you can make improvements.

Monitoring your CIP can be done in a variety of ways, but the most common method is to use Continuous Improvement tools or metrics suitable to your project. This is a useful way to track your company’s progress and to keep the process going. Continuous Improvement Projects require a constant cycle of evaluation and improvement.

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