If you work in a medium or large organization I’ll bet there is a continuous improvement activity, in progress, planned or just completing. With so much emphasis on continuous improvement its mind boggling that 80% of implementations fail according to the Center of Excellence in Operations. That doesn’t surprise me while I’ve witnessed pockets of excellence yet to experience anywhere near the full potential of Continuous Improvement or Lean Transformation programs.
The reason for failure are numerous and typically obvious to most within an organization. Failures are result age old issues nothing new to see here.
• Focus on short term financial goals.
• Lack of Leadership.
• Silos competing and wrestling with conflicting goals.
• Targeting the wrong metrics
• Ineffective Communication

We all know bad news, shortfalls or outright failures travel upward slowly in organizations. Information too often is sanitized to make lemons appear to be lemonade. Organizations try hard to have solid measurable goals however relying on these too heavily can be very deceptive! Quantitative information is great but without solid qualitative inputs you’re endanger of simply putting lipstick on a pig. This is where I believe corporate continuous improvement programs fail miserably.
Take for example athletes that run the 4X400 relay. A trainer could report that each athlete 100 split was improved 4% then declare victory on this selected quantitative data. What the trainer left out was the hand offs were abysmal and there was little team chemistry. But in an effort to prove his or her value the trainer did what is done so often in manufacturing “optimize non bottlenecks” declare victory and move on.
For that reason in particular I believe in a more organic and localized continuous improvement activities. Every business can be improved but not every business is Toyota. Each company has their unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A cookie cutter approach to continual improvement is simply limiting your organizations ability to breakout. Also remember “Lean” begins at contract negotiation prior to the order acceptance. If you wait until after orders are accepted to “figure it out” be prepared to carry inventory.


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  1. Jace Brown says:

    Hear, hear! Picking metrics is all about picking things that indicate results. That said, good results are have to be expectations set at the very front of the improvement process. Like contract negotiations or engineering a solution to a problem. That epectation is so very important to the success of the effort. I was an owner of a subcontracting company that provided finish carpentry to contractors suppling high end interior finishes for banks and retail. One superintendant told me once, if you are a half degree off between here and the door, (15 feet) there isn’t much problem. half a degree between here and Nashville, (150 miles) and you never make it to the city. He believed that you start the foundation work right and keep everything as close as you can until the roof was on and you will have a successful condtruction. He was right.

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