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Expanding and Sustaining Continuous Improvement – Part 2

Guest Blog

Guest Blog

By Lisa Meschi

After phase one of our continuous improvement (CI) journey, we saw a shift in the energy around our effort: momentum waned, and there was resistance to new CI projects.  After looking at our main issues, we aimed to solve four problems: Projects were taking too long, our infrastructure was too complex, we had a lack of process documentation, and we didn’t have enough subject matter experts.

Issue: Infrastructure became too complex
The idea to create a CI Council and related sub-teams to focus on key areas of foundational work to support CI worked well for a couple of years, but as we matured, we found that we needed a smaller, formalized group.  Trying to get the work done through multiple sub-teams with 5—10 team members each became quite complex and the work seemed inefficient.  Additionally, many sub-team members and CI Council members had limited time to dedicate to CI foundational work.

Solution: Create a CI Department
We now have a CI Department with a CI Manager who oversees a full-time CI Coach and a CI Specialist.  The department is responsible for deploying our process management system, cascading our scorecard at all levels, deploying our CI recognition system, managing coach projects, communicating results, and deploying our CI training program.  We plan to expand the department in the coming years by adding additional coaches.  We also have assigned local CI leads in our various geographies who are responsible for project management at the local level. Here is what our structure looks like now:

lisa's blog part 2 PM

Issue: Projects were taking too long. 
Our part-time CI coaches were typically assigned to process improvement teams that were outside of their functional areas to ensure that they maintained an objective point of view.  Coaches had a steep learning curve when it came to understanding the basics of their assigned process, and they didn’t necessarily have credibility or relationships with the team.  Additionally, the sponsors of these various projects were not properly trained to help narrow the scope of the team, so teams often bit off way more than they could chew.  This resulted in projects lasting anywhere from 6—9 months, exhausted team members, and a daunting implementation plan due to scope creep. 

Solution: Decentralize coach assignment & give coaches freedom to innovate
In the past several months, we have asked functional workgroup leaders to deploy coaches in their own functional areas, and we have implemented a more stringent start-up process.  The CI Manager works with the functional workgroup leader to determine an appropriate project prioritization process and scope before assigning a coach.  The functional workgroup leader is held accountable for project results and team engagement. We have an increased emphasis on quick wins, which have ignited several follow-up projects.  Coaches have also been encouraged to streamline the methodology and innovate the way that they apply tools to maximize results. Our average project time is down about 50% with a much higher implementation rate.


Issue: Lack of documentation & process repository
When we began our CI work, we had almost no process documentation.  After the first few years of our journey, our process documentation was based on process improvement projects that we had completed.  Although we had more documentation at this point, the formatting was inconsistent, and we had a hard time getting teams to be disciplined enough to keep the documentation in a shared drive where multiple teams would have visibility.  There was also no way to add in measurement data with our manual system.

Solution: Adoption of a Business Process Modeling System
We chose to adopt a business process modeling system, specifically Signavio.  In just three short months, we were able to document hundreds of processes utilizing process champions in each functional area.  The tool is incredibly intuitive and collaborative, resulting in limited time needed to create models, a consistent format for all models, and visibility to all models.  The tool also allows us to add measurement data, translate models into multiple languages, and gather feedback from multiple employees before a final model is published.  Our CI Department now receives multiple requests from multiple areas of the business that are anxious to get involved.


Issue:  Lack of subject matter experts
As we mentioned in Part 1, we trained 30 internal process improvement coaches; however, due to many coaches getting promoted into high-level roles as well as a few coaches leaving the company, we did not have a large enough supply of coaches to meet the rising demand from our functional workgroup leads.  Additionally, the training program was very resource intensive and required coaches to allocate 50% of their time for the duration of the program.

Solution: Creation of a more flexible, inclusive training program
We decided to split the training program into three levels, and at each level, an employee reaches an increasingly higher competency around process improvement.  Certain courses are offered online, and the in-person courses are offered more frequently, which allows for greater flexibility for participants. Training participants are not required to allocate a large percentage of their time since the newly created program is much more flexible.  Our first course will be offered in Q2 2015, and we are expecting great results.


Our main goal with these changes is to make CI accessible to a larger portion of the organization as well as to ensure that our CI work is sustainable for years to come until it becomes a seamless part of our company’s fabric. We found that CI changes over time, and we need to continue to pay attention and evolve our infrastructure and systems accordingly.  These are our initial improvements, which have been successful so far; however, we will evaluate continually and continue to adjust over time.

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