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Continuous Improvement Is Only For Manufacturing (And Other Myths)

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Jan 13, 2015 7:17:00 AM

Screen_Shot_2015-01-08_at_2.35.32_PMWhen friends or family ask me about my job, I explain that my company provides a software platform that supports business efforts around continuous improvement. Their reactions tell me a lot about some of the common myths that are floating around about the approach. Here are a few that I hear frequently.



1 – It only applies in manufacturing

While it is true that the idea of continuous improvement is often associated with the Japanese auto makers, including Toyota, who pioneered a systematic approach to quality assurance and business process improvement, the concept is being used today in organizations of all types. After all, what type of company can’t improve? We’ve seen continuous improvement initiatives have tremendous benefits for health care organizations, software companies, not-for-profit organizations, and almost every other type of business.

2 – It requires a business process methodology like Six Sigma

There are many popular business process methodologies that add a level of structure and a common language to continuous improvement. Six Sigma, Lean and Total Quality Management (TQM) are a few. However, it is not necessary to embrace one of them to benefit from continuous improvement. Structure is certainly necessary, but it can be achieved with or without another named business methodology.

3 – You have to form a committee

Some organizations do appoint specific people to oversee their continuous improvement efforts on either a full or part time basis. This can often help accelerate improvement, but it is not essential.

4 – It’s the committee’s job

As a corollary to #3, even if you do form a committee, continuous improvement should be the responsibility of every single employee and leader, starting with the executive team and cascading down through the organization to all front-line employees. The people who work most closely with your customers, prospects and products are in the best position to recognize opportunities for improvement, especially small ones. The committee, should you choose to have one, can train people, offer support, and help clear obstacles, but continuous improvement is an all-in game.

5 – It can be managed with spreadsheets and shared drives

Not really. In order to be effective, the technology you choose to support your continuous improvement efforts should be designed for the purpose. It should be easily accessible for everyone, from everywhere. It should have features that make gathering ideas for improvement, acting upon them and reporting the results easy and efficient.

6 – It costs a fortune

There may be some investment required in improvement, but it is usually far offset by the cost savings, quality improvement and additional revenue it generates. We believe that every improvement effort should result in a demonstrable impact, whether quantifable (in financial terms or time savings) or qualitative (like safety, satisfaction, or quality improvements).

7 – Employees hate it

This one is actually only partly a myth. Employees do hate it when management introduces a new initiative that’s going to change the company, only to forget about it in a couple of weeks, or fail to provide employees with the resources necessary to make it successful. But here’s the thing - employees love the opportunity to enact positive change. They love the trust and autonomy that comes from being asked to help identify ways to increase customer value and decrease costs. Successful continuous improvement efforts actually result in more engaged and personally invested employees.

Like most myths, these didn’t spring out of thin air. Some have an element of truth to them, while others are based primarily on the experiences of businesses that failed to truly adopt the core principles of the approach. Don’t let them keep you and your team from enjoying the benefits of a more efficient, customer-focused and collaborative organization.

To find out what you should be doing to create a sustainable culture of continuous improvement, check out our free upcoming webinar!

Upcoming webinar:

More Leadership Behaviors That Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement

January 27 at 1p EDT

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IMG_0802In this webinar, you'll learn:

  • What you should be doing to create a culture of continuous improvement
  • How to encourage the identification, testing, evaluation, and sharing of improvements
  • Best practices for collaborating on improvement
  • When to get involved… and when to get out of the way
  • How to make sure your voice is heard


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