Summit Group Partners Blog

Continuous Improvement Isn’t Dead

Guest Blogger Jeff Trump discusses the concept of continuous improvement, which he believes should be thriving in every organization. Read real life examples in practice.

The concept and value of Continuous Improvements should not be forgotten or lack importance in any business. Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma have all become the focus of many successful businesses. These programs are investments and require a long term commitment by everyone in the organization from the CEO to the rank and file employees.


The challenge that many businesses face today is the need to see savings now. This is even more prevalent in mature industries with double digit declines annually. With cost reductions hitting every functional area of most companies, you cannot bank on the more radical changes that once came from the R&D department. You may have even reduced your staff to the point that you cannot dedicate facilitators to lead the teams that are deemed vital to the drive improvements.


Another of the many challenges that has impacted Lean Manufacturing efforts is the significant material increases many industries have experienced despite the tough economic times. I will provide one quick example and then get to the point. Some businesses have been able to do away with the inspection process for raw materials. Many companies have turned to offshore suppliers as they are often significantly cheaper. Unfortunately you get what you pay for and the quality is not as consistent as when purchased domestically. As a result it has become necessary to re-instate the inspection processes that were eliminated during the Lean Manufacturing journey.


The concept of Continuous Improvements is based on many small changes that should be ideas that come from the employees that actually do the work. This can be done in any business in any industry without R & D or capital investments, either of which can be very costly. Because the ideas come from the workers they are unlikely to be radically different, and therefore much easier to implement. In my experience the ideas that are implemented from employee feedback promotes buy-in, improves morale and motivates the overall team.


Change is one of the biggest challenges for most employees. They often view changes directed by management as “flavor of the month”. You hear comments after meetings such as “here we go again”, or “we have tried that before and it didn’t work”. In my experience the worst thing you can do is to create unachievable goals. In some cases you may even lose ground as people start to give up knowing they will fail.


Some of the best results I have seen have come from the concept of Continuous Improvements. I recall conducting my first meeting on the subject, and the positive reception both during and after the meeting ended. I started the meeting showing the group that we had another solid month. I thanked and congratulated the entire team for the great results and how well everyone followed the procedures in place.

Once I had everyone’s attention and I knew we had some positive energy in the room, I started to lay the ground work. I asked the group if they all knew how much the budget was increasing in the back half of the year. Everyone in management knew, but most of the hourly employees looked at each other to see who would venture a guess. Fortunately someone yelled out “5%”. I congratulated them for paying attention in the previous meeting and told them they could take an extra 10 minute break after the meeting.


I now shifted gears on them and asked if anyone thought that ALL procedures we had in place were perfect. No one responded. I asked the group if ANY of the procedures in place were perfect. Again no one responded. I asked if anyone in the room other than management had been directly involved in creating the procedures. Once again they sat there in silence. I asked if anyone has any ideas that could improve the efficiency of our operation. I saw a few people nodding there heads, but nobody wanted to risk throwing out an idea that may get challenged. However I was sure they all had something to contribute.


I now announced that effective immediately we were going to begin the Continuous Improvement Process. While you have all done a great job and we have been meeting the financial commitments, we must improve in order to meet the increased goals for the back half of the year. I told them that this could be the easiest thing they ever achieved. All you have to do is to improve tomorrow compared to what you have done today. Obviously none of our current processes are perfect, since no one spoke up when I asked the question. You are the ones that are doing the jobs and that means you are the experts. I am counting on your expertise to improve the processes. Beginning tomorrow I and the rest of the management team will begin soliciting your ideas for improvements. We are looking for anything that can increase sales, increase productivity, improve quality, reduce waste, reduce cycle times, lower cost and improve safety.


I wrapped up the meeting with a quick recap and added a couple points to minimize the problems I could anticipate. We will consider all ideas, but we cannot turn the business up-side-down by changing everything at once. I say that as I don’t want people to get discouraged if their idea is not implemented now or in the future. We will prioritize the ideas, in order of impact and ease of implementation. If there is a cost related to the idea, then we will need to consider how quickly we will receive a return on the investment. I want to close by taking the pressure off of everyone. Remember-We don’t have to double production or cut waste in half….we just have to improve tomorrow what we achieve today.


Continuous Improvements are many small changes, but that does not mean they will have a small impact on your results. Continuous Improvement isn’t dead.

About the author

Aimee Miller
Aimee Miller - Communications and Growth Leadership Advisor

Aimee provides strategic marketing and public relations services to clients in a variety of industries including real estate, retail, design and construction, financial services and technology. For more than 15 years, she has put her marketing and communications skills to work to promote clients’ businesses. Prior to embarking on a consulting career, Aimee held the position of Marketing Director for a Denver-based professional services firm and was an Account Supervisor at the Integer Group managing promotional programs for Coors Brewing Worldwide. She has executed public relations and event marketing campaigns at other large advertising and promotional agencies, including Frankel in Chicago, for brands such as McDonald’s, Oldsmobile and Marshall Field’s.

Her PR background has delivered major media coverage for clients across a variety print, broadcast and online media outlets. She has a bachelor’s degree in both Journalism & Mass Communications and Sociology from the University of Iowa.



Continuous improvement is vital for organizations and individuals alike. The topic of continuous improvement is normally centered around an organization's processes. Is your organization committed to continuous improvement on it's people side. Are you committed to making better decisions about employee selection, succession planning and leader development? Are you leaving productivity on the table because you are not improving your workforce?

Friday, 16 March 2012
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Guest Blogger Jeff Trump discusses the concept of continuous improvement, which he believes should be thriving in every organization. Read real life examples in practice.