If you think trying to predict anything that will happen in 2021 is insane after what’s happened this year, you have a point. But by applying the lessons learned from 2020 and some strong trends that make sense in this new normal, we think we have a reasonably good idea about what to expect concerning continuous improvement next year.
Here are our predictions. We’ll check back in a year to see how close we came.
There will be a bigger emphasis on leadership behavior.
While improvement can be both a bottom-up and top-down exercise, the culture of improvement can not thrive if it does not start at the top The behavior of leaders directly impacts the achievement of strategic goals and operational excellence.
We believe that in 2020, leadership’s position will change from encouraging and supporting the idea of continuous improvement to proactively engaging with the execution of improvement.
This will take the form of:
- Connecting improvement work to the strategic goals of the organization
- Investment in continuous improvement technology and other supporting resources
- Dedicating resources to ongoing training and communication of improvement initiatives
- Active engagement in appropriate improvement activities
- Continually communicating the value of improvement
- Rewards and recognition for employee contributions
Methods for sustaining improvement will get more attention.
Project management teams and those responsible for strategic execution are facing the fact that continuous improvement initiatives are difficult to sustain. They only continue to deliver value if the organization recognizes them as a priority.
Traditionally, executive sponsorship was seen as the key to ensuring that continuous improvement initiatives are taken seriously, but this is not a good long-term approach. Leaders must turn their attention to new projects rather than closely monitoring completed ones indefinitely.
We predict a move to a more system-based approach to sustaining improvement. The framework for future governance will be built into the initial delivery of each improvement. It will include steps to monitor results automatically and generate regularly updated performance indicators baked into executive reporting and dashboards.
Organizations will standardize on continuous improvement methodologies.
In 2021, continuous improvement will take up more space on the organization’s agenda. The methods for delivering it will be a crucial topic not just with project managers but at all levels of the organization. While various project teams and departments may have adopted their own favored methodologies in the past, we predict that next year, organizations will begin to standardize on one enterprise-wide approach.
The choice of methodology, be it Lean, Six Sigma, TQM, Agile, something else, or a combination, is less important. The significant thing is that each organization finds a framework that fits with its strategic goals and operational requirements and is used consistently across all improvement work.
Leadership buy-in is the key to success. Ideally, there will be a consensus between decision-makers, and they will take responsibility for raising awareness among managers and teams.
Project teams will grow more diverse.
The long term impact of improvement initiatives depends on the process operators responsible for their execution. Every project has a diverse set of stakeholders with different views, experience levels, concerns, and priorities. To achieve success, all of these stakeholders must be invested in the outcome.
We see a growing trend toward organizations adopting processes and technologies that simplify communication and collaboration across functions and teams. The right structure makes it possible to include a diverse range of perspectives when decisions are made.
There will be a broader adoption of continuous improvement technology.
There are three reasons why we can confidently make this prediction.
First, strategic execution and operation excellence has become a top enterprise priority. Other focus areas, finance, HR, sales, customer success, are all managed in software platforms. When continuous improvement is seen as on par with these functions, it makes sense to provide the same technological support.
Next, continuous improvement software has become much easier to implement. With the shift to cloud-based, mobile-friendly solutions that support various improvement methodologies and customizations, the barriers to adoption have been significantly reduced.
Finally, leaders recognize that anything that takes the friction out of improvement work is of high value. Time wasted sifting through email or fixing broken spreadsheets is not spent on the strategic work of well-aligned improvements. Barriers to excellence can no longer be tolerated.
We don’t have any idea what will happen more generally in 2021. We’re hopeful that with the introduction of a COVID vaccine and the stabilizing of the economy, 2021 will be less dramatic. Even so, we are comfortable making these predictions in the realm of positive change.
What do you see coming from an improvement perspective in 2021?