Process Identification -> Process Improvement -> Performance Improvement -> Performance Excellence -> Operational Excellence
The journey of Continuous Improvement is long, arduous, and best of all, never-ending. One could say that is the whole nature of the word “continuous”. This road does, however, have several checkpoints. With that said, here we’ll provide an overview of the entire journey, but spend more time at the beginning – because that’s where it all starts!
When organizations determine they want to embark on the CI journey, they often just want to jump right in. Process Improvement is where most start. This, however, can be wrought with peril. I once worked with an organization who did just that – started a Process Improvement Initiative. They did all the training on Lean, Six Sigma, Team Building, etc. There was mixed reception from the operations team, and mixed results at best. What they did not realize was that, for them, PI did not mean Process Improvement; it meant Process Identification. They wanted to jump right in to improving without establishing a fundamental, core foundation of what they were actually doing. This led to much frustration and confusion among the staff.
Many organizations fall into this trap. They think they are better than they actually are – or at least farther along the CI journey. After all, who wanted to admit they don’t even have a consistent identification of their processes? That would mean a failure of management, and no manager is going to admit to that! Well, guess what people, time to take a hard look in the mirror. I once had the opportunity to work for a manager, who, whenever a “sticky” problem was presented to him, would pull out an old truck mirror from under his desk, take a look and ask, “Is the problem me?” When was the last time you did this? But, I digress.
If one wants to embark on a journey, while the destination may not always be known, the starting point darn well better be! If not, how will you be able to measure your progress? Only once we have identified (honestly) where we are, can we improve; otherwise, we are just kidding ourselves. So, Process Identification leads to Process Improvement.
Once processes start to be improved, we can expect to see performance be improved through the use of well defined measurement systems and processes – remembering to measure what is important – not everything needs to be measured! Now, Process Improvement leads to Performance Improvement.
As our performance in focused areas improves, we begin to see excellence in our processes and areas of focus. We have best practices that can be shared across the organization into other areas. Performance Improvement leads to Performance Excellence.
As we begin to seek and strive for excellence in our impacted areas, we start to share the approach across the organization, through all operational activities. We integrate ideas, share best practices, and continually work on improving the way we do things. Now, Performance Excellence leads to Operational Excellence.
Operational Excellence becomes the way the company does things. There is a mindset of always wanting to improve. Celebrating successes along the way, and appreciating the gains made by all to improve the organization. It becomes a de facto thought process. It is never ending….