Thursday, March 26, 2009

When are you done with Continuous Improvement?


Recently an individual who just witnessed several lean sigma project reviews asked, “When are you done with continuous improvement”?  The discussion that followed is worth summarizing to reinforce the idea that continuous improvement is just that, continuous.


My initial response was that not only must a company change; it must change faster than its competition.  Most everyone would all agree that companies are competitive and all want to be number one in their field.  Assuming that as a fact, the non-field leading companies are striving to improve to over-take the leaders.  Should the up and coming companies change and improve faster than the leaders, they will eventually over-take them. Without change, even companies that are number one in their field will eventually be surpassed. 


One person in the discussion likened this to a scene in the 1990 movie “Days of Thunder”, starring Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall.  The individual described one scene in which the pit crew chief (Duvall) was talking via radio to the racecar driver (Cruise).  The pit crew chief was complaining to the driver that he was going too fast and abusing the equipment.  The driver responded that he had not sped up, but everyone else had slowed down. By simply going a little faster than the competition, he finally passed all of those in front of him to become number one; winning the race.


Continuous improvement is a marathon and this marathon has no end, simply minor course adjustments as you continue in the race. 


We are in a changing and challenging time.  Many companies will be tempted to retrench and cut expenses by blindly cutting costs including eliminating their continuous improvement activities.  This is not the time to be timid, this is the time to aggressively attack waste by pursuing continuous improvement.  Less non-value added waste equals more profit.


For a company to be successful, they must have a strong culture that promotes continuous improvement.  They must strive to be better than they were six months ago while realizing that they are not as good as they will be six months from now.


I’ll close this post as I closed the discussion, with one of my favorite business quotes. “When the pace of change outside the organization is greater than the pace of change inside the organization, the end is near.”   John R. Walker



Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group

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