Executing a single improvement initiative is one thing. Creating a culture of continuous improvement is another. The idea of one improvement project is usually fairly clear and straightforward. There is a beginning and an end, clear steps, resources dedicated for certain hours and durations, and a clear end goal or target. What is this business of improving continually? When does it end? Who will sign on indefinitely? Do people understand what's at stake or how we're going to keep this going for any length of time? Continuous improvement is another matter entirely.
Getting started in continuous improvement is very similar to starting an individual project. Organizations can usually come up with lists of dozens of things they need to begin, and they often obtain those items and execute those plans. Over time, though, some policies or plans may need to change. The organization must find a way to help the entire work force understand what continuous improvement means on a personal level. These are challenging endeavors. No matter how well-planned a continuous improvement initiative is, some road bumps are inevitable.
One of the best ways to ensure that your road bumps don't lead to flat tires and broken axles is to understand the most common potential barriers to continuous improvement for any organization. In her article The Greatest Barriers to Continuous Improvement, Ýr Gunnarsdóttir, head of continuous improvement at TIBCO, describes the five greatest barriers to continuous improvement:
- difficulty fostering collaboration between multiple stakeholders,
- difficulty identifying which process improvements to prioritize,
- ill-suited process management tooling,
- governing/controlling change (to meet compliance obligations), and
- lack of employee engagement.
Almost every organization that has attempted continuous improvement has encountered these issues. By planning for these challenges ahead of time, your organization can ensure a more seamless and complete adoption of continuous improvement. Look at each barrier and think about what you need to do to mitigate the difficulties associated with each one. What information do you need to gather to make better decisions and choose priorities? What resources do you need to develop effective communications and governance? What kind of training do you need to provide? Who needs to be in charge of different parts of continuous improvement?
Which barrier is the biggie for you? Weigh in and see what other people think!