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9 of Our Favorite Performance Improvement Methods

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Aug 31, 2018 11:00:00 AM

Excellence - Business Background. Golden Compass Needle on a Black Field Pointing to the Word "Excellence". 3D Render.-1We’re in the lucky position to have the opportunity to chat with leaders who are dedicated to organizational and employee performance improvement on a regular basis. Of course, we spend much time talking about improvement management technology, but we also like to get into the day-to-day tactical techniques that help our clients achieve their goals. We’re delighted to share some of the ones they love the most.


DMAIC is an improvement cycle with five phases; define measure, analyze, improve, control. This process is used to make sure that improvements are data-driven, measurable, and repeatable. Our clients use improvement software to ensure that the cycle runs smoothly and that future impact of improvements is measured. Once a DMAIC cycle is complete a new Standard Work is created, and a new DMAIC cycle can begin.

PDSA is an acronym for Plan, Do, Study, Act. Like DMAIC, it is a structured improvement cycle. Each step is documented as the opportunity for improvement is executed. PDSA is perfect for incremental improvements that can be implemented frequently.

Standard Work

We mentioned that the result of a DMAIC or PDSA cycle is a new Standard work. Standard work is the documentation of the best practices for any process or task at the current time. It should be created and updated by the people who perform each operation. It represents the baseline for future improvement.

Gemba Walks

“Gemba” means the “real place” in Japanese. During a Gemba walk, a leader visits the place where work is done to observe, ask questions, and identify potential opportunities for improvement. Leaders never review the performance of employees on a Gemba walk, nor do they make immediate changes. After the walk, the leader engages employees in executing any targeted improvements.

Free eBook: Guide to Successful Gemba Walks

Hoshin Kanri

Hoshin Kanri is also called policy deployment. It is a strategic planning method that ensures that the organization is all aligned toward the most critical goals and objectives. Both incremental improvements and breakthrough goals are considered during the Hoshin planning process.

Process Control Charts

Process control charts are graphs used to monitor how a process behaves over time. Data points are plotted in time order in a chart with a central line for the average (sometimes a median), an upper line for the upper control limit, and a lower line for the lower control limit. These lines are calculated from historical data and usually cover three standard deviations from the mean. Process control charts help avoid overreaction to statistical “noise.” They also eliminate problems caused by only looking at average results, instead of the variations of results.

5S Workplace Organization

Optimal performance requires a workspace that is well stocked, safe, and organized. The 5S method of workspace organization has five steps, all of which start with S in both Japanese and English. They are seiri (sort), seiton (set), seiso (shine), seiketsu (standardize), and shitsuke (sustain). Although the technique originated in manufacturing, it has been used to improve the performance of organizations of all types from hospitals to construction sites.


Catchball is a performance improvement technique that involves moving ideas from one person to another for input, feedback, and action. Someone, usually a manager, starts the “ball” rolling by defining the purpose, goals, background, and challenges. Catchall is effective at eliminating the friction that causes decreased engagement in a strictly top-down management style.

A3 Problem Solving

The A3 method gets its name from the size of paper each report was once confined to. (Think European letter paper.) First used at Toyota, A3 is a structured problem-solving approach. The A3 report is the result of an improvement cycle like PDSA or DAMIC. These days, most folks use improvement software rather than paper for the job.


Kanban means “shop keeper’s sign.” Leaders at Toyota were inspired by the way that grocery store shelves are stocked when inventory gets low. They applied the visual management approach used by grocers to keep goods flowing to the customer without an unnecessary stockpile. Kanban uses visual clues, sometimes cards to document the state of work, limit work-in-progress, and achieve the continuous flow of value.

These are a few of our favorite things. What about you? Which of these techniques or others do you find most valuable in your performance improvement efforts?

Topics: Improvement Methodology

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