Why Don’t We Have Truly Continuous Improvement?

In my observation and experience, few organizations achieve truly continuous improvement in spite of extensive training programs, language and cultural changes, and setting expectations of improvement results. Why is that? 

It seems especially puzzling considering that each of the continuous improvement methodologies I have studied insists that true success comes not from organized events, but instead it comes from everyone exercising the improvement methodology every day on large and small opportunities alike. This message is especially clear in the Lean methodology, to name one. It is also the objective in Six Sigma, to name another.

In Lean, Kaizen is the ultimate manifestation of the Lean methodology, and Kaizen refers not to “Kaizen events,” but rather to small, incremental improvements every day. In Six Sigma we got in the habit of organizing improvement projects, assigning teams, and reporting our results. This was meant to be a vetting and mentoring process, not the ultimate modus operandi.

The projects give us a chance to put our training to work while practicing cross-functional interpersonal leadership and receiving mentoring from experts. However, once we are certified and have proven our understanding, the expectation should always have been to go forth and to do Six Sigma everywhere that it made sense, without having to organize separate projects.

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