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The Key to a Successful Continuous Improvement Program: 3 Way Alignment

By Roger Price - March 20, 2018

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The road toward impactful, sustainable continuous improvement (CI) for most organizations will almost certainly contain potholes, roadblocks, and other hazards, which is why it’s crucial to take a thoughtful approach to how you introduce and deploy CI through the organization.  In our experience working with dozens of companies across multiple industries, we’ve gleaned a few insights into what separates organizations who “get it right” when it comes to CI from those who struggle to gain traction and make meaningful change.

The remainder of this article will focus on our latest insights related to the subject of enterprise alignment with CI.

The Foundation for Alignment: Your CI Vision & Strategy

The recommendation to create a CI-specific vision and strategy is not particularly revolutionary, but is nevertheless critical to the short- and long-term success of CI because, if done properly, CI visioning and strategy setting forces a meaningful conversation about CI’s role in the organization, which is the first step toward achieving alignment.  For this reason, we’ve developed implementation toolkits for our clients to help them lead visioning and strategy setting activities in their organizations.  Unfortunately, it’s often at this point that victory is declared (“our CI strategy exists...here it is on a PowerPoint slide!) and the alignment process stops.  

What needs to be understood is that the mere existence of a CI vision and strategy, no matter how well crafted, does not mean that you are in a position to move forward with your CI program.  Instead, what’s left to be done is to achieve alignment in at least three ways:

  1. Alignment to Your Resource Model
  2. Alignment to the needs, challenges, and requirements of line leaders
  3. Alignment to the ability of your organization to make change

Alignment to Your Resource Model

The resource model refers to the number and composition of the team that are charged to lead the implementation of CI in the organization, including CI leaders and practitioners at the corporate, business/region, and location levels.  Unfortunately, what we continue to see in many organizations is that the vision and strategy for CI is more ambitious than the organization’s ability to execute it because there are insufficient CI resources in place to execute the strategy.

The lack of resources manifests at least two ways:

  1. Lack of leveraged CI resources to deploy a structured approach to CI at the pace the enterprise would like, meaning that rollout plans get delayed and major areas of the business are delayed in getting started on their journey
  2. Lack of dedicated, location-level CI resources to facilitate the process once deployed, resulting in slow progress and lack of sustainability of initial results

SEE ALSO: How to Drive Culture-Led Continuous Improvement Implementation Efforts

The point being made isn’t that most organizations are underinvesting in CI (although I believe that’s largely true).  No, the problem is that decisions with regards to resourcing are often made in a vacuum from the visioning and strategy setting process, which is a huge problem that can set up the CI program for failure.

Alignment to the Needs, Challenges, and Requirements of Individual Line Leaders

As stated previously, the need to create a CI vision and strategy that connects to the broader corporate vision and strategy is well-understood by most CI Leaders, which is why it’s important to have a clear sense for the corporate vision and strategy before starting down the path of creating the same for CI.

But there’s a difference between conceptual alignment as documented in a vision statement, and true alignment, which is only achieved when the individual line leaders who are the gatekeepers for the actual implementation of CI put the full weight of their positional authority and personal credibility behind the effort.  Achieving that level of alignment typically requires a series of one-on-one or small team interactions with key line leaders to understand their experience with CI and affinity (or lack thereof) for it as well as the specific operational challenges and opportunities that they need to see addressed. This sort of dialogue allows the CI leader to tailor the deployment within the guardrails established by the vision and strategy, thus increasing the level of support and engagement from line leaders.

Alignment to Your Organization’s Ability to Make Change

The final area of alignment is to the organization’s ability to make change, which is a fancy way of saying that your CI program will be in trouble if you try to move at a faster pace than the business is capable.  To be clear, in this case I’m not talking about the issue from a cultural/organizational change management (OCM) perspective. Certainly, if there is organizational resistance to going forward with CI, that resistance needs to be understood and addressed through the application of sound OCM practices.  

Instead, I’m referring to specific, tangible constraints on the organization’s ability to change, of which there are at least 3 to consider:

  1. Financial constraints - lack of budget to invest in building workforce capability or implementing technical or process changes
  2. Time/bandwidth constraints - competing priorities and/or staff vacancies that keep attention focused elsewhere or drive near-term urgency on other matters
  3. Capability constraints - competencies that are lacking and need to be hired into the organization or developed within the organization

In some cases the above constraints will be used as an excuse for what is really a change resistance issue and, when that occurs, as mentioned previously, the thoughtful application of OCM practices is required.  But these constraints can be perfectly legitimate as well and need to be considered when planning for the deployment of CI in the organization.

SEE ALSO: Three Tips for Applying Continuous Improvement to Process Industries

And it’s important to surface these constraints early in the life of the CI program because they indicate the potential for misalignment between the the CI vision, strategy, and rollout plan and the practical reality of what’s happening in the business at any point in time, which then will necessitate a dialogue on how to deal with the misalignment either by resetting near-term expectations for CIallo, casting additional resources to address the constraints, or changing the rollout plan to focus on areas of the business that are less constrained.

Interested in learning more about successful CI programs? Take it one step further and and find out how you can ensure ROI from your CI approach.

do you know how to ensure roi from your ci approach

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