Continuous quality improvement (CQI) isn’t a subject that inspires a lot of debate. We’ve yet to find a business leader or even a front-line employee who doesn’t think that quality improvement is a good thing. But many companies struggle to achieve this nearly unanimous goal. Our work with companies trying to get there has given us some insight into why. Here are 8 of the most common problems we’ve seen.
There is No Formal CQI Initiative
Because quality improvement is so obvious, many organizations will say, perhaps in their mission or vision statement, that they strive for continuous improvement, but when you dig deeper and ask what that means, they can’t give a definitive answer. There is no plan to achieve CQI and no set of metrics to measure it. It is just an ideal tethered to nothing. Of course, the organizations we know have successfully achieved CQI put in the effort to craft a plan, define success, and constantly measure progress.
“Quality” is Too Narrowly Described
When people think of the word quality, they often associate it only with the end product that is delivered to the customer. That’s clearly important and what the market will judge, but quality comes in many more forms. Timely processing of expense reports or efficient use of energy within the workspace might not impact the customer, but they are still relevant to the quality of processes and the health of the organization. Improvements to any process should be considered part of the CQI initiative.
There’s No Support or Structure
In addition to having a plan for CQI, successful organizations invest in the tools necessary to control and manage it. This usually takes the form of an improvement software solution designed to collect, implement, and measure opportunities for improvement. Not only does this help in the practical, day-to-day execution of quality improvements, but it is also a strong indication to the organization that leadership considers quality improvement a priority.
Not Everyone is On Board
Becoming a company that does more than give lip service to CQI means that everyone from the c-suite to the front lines sees improvement as a priority. That happens when goals are aligned and people are given the responsibility, accountability, and support they need to make incremental changes that produce better results. It also helps when people are recognized and rewarded for their improvement efforts. We recommend that successful improvements be broadly shared.
CQI Isn’t Actively Managed
Sadly, quality improvement isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it-proposition. It is something that needs constant attention. That’s why improvement software is so helpful. It allows leaders to constantly monitor the health of CQI within the organization and get involved when progress stalls or roadblocks are encountered.
There’s No Definition of Success
The word "Improve" means, “To make or become better.” That begs two questions. Better than what? And what constitutes better? So by definition, you have to understand the current state and the desired state in order to improve. You must have a set of objectives and measurements for those objectives in order to know if you are moving in the right direction. We’ve seen too many companies neglect this basic foundation for improvement work.
Departments of Teams Work in Silos
In most organizations, the best opportunities for quality improvement sit at the handoffs between one part of the organization and another or where functions overlap. That’s where things can fall through the cracks or the wastes of waiting, overproduction, and motion can occur. Too often there is a lack of cross-functional collaboration and the shared language around improvement that is necessary for positive change.
History Repeats Itself (Or Not)
One of the most valuable assets an organization has is its past. Every attempt at improvement, whether successful or not, creates new knowledge that can be leveraged in the future. In organizations where CQI is the norm, they carefully document each improvement project and create a repository of tribal knowledge. Best practices are repeated and efforts that don’t pan out are avoided the next time a similar issue comes up.
These are the most common mistakes we see when it comes to CQI, but they are all avoidable. Success requires a clear objective, top to bottom commitment, the right tools, and constant management. It is no small task, but leaders who have made it there will tell you that there’s no going back. The rewards of quality improvement are nothing less than happier customers, more engaged and motivated employees, and increased profitability. Who doesn’t want that?