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People and the why and what of continual improvement

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Virtually all organizations have made improvements over their lifetime.

However, many report the rate of change they are facing and the challenges it brings seem to be increasing.

Is the rate of improvement being made enough to achieve your vision? Do you have the kind of organization that will create it?

What is occurring in your organization that keeps you up at night? Could it be the need to …

<Attract, develop and retain a high-performing workforce?

<Increase the value of products/services to your customers and develop new ones?

<Operate more efficiently – decreasing costs, shortening cycle times, improving quality?

<Generate the financial resources needed to grow?

<Deal with change and the influx of technology, regulations and cultural challenges.

Closing the gaps between where you are and your vision is where the need for and importance of continual improvement starts.

Continual improvement is the quest to increase the rate of improvement and benefits in an organization, beyond historical norms and perhaps beyond what is thought possible, to the benefit of your customers, teams, funders and society.

And its primary way of achieving its goal is by unlocking the limitless capacity of an organization’s most valued resource – its people.


Many people have heard of or tried a form of continual improvement – quality, lean, Six Sigma or other strategies – and have achieved some success.

There are differences, however, in these popularized approaches in their purpose, application and content.

Some often are described and applied differently (and incorrectly) as “a tool kit,” “only for manufacturing” or “all about cost-cutting.”

The term continual improvement refers to an integrated model that uses the best of the best of what was learned.


Continual improvement largely is based on the quality model and the work of W. Edwards Deming, who brought an understanding of the role of leadership in high-performing cultures and the use of data to solve problems.

It also is based on the lean model, contributed to by many (see “Lean Thinking” by James Womack and Daniel Jones), which brought an increased focus on adding value for customers, eliminating waste in work processes, a host of practical methods to do both and improving performance.

Continual improvement helps you start to close those gaps.


Capture its purpose and approach in a continual improvement goal statement. The goal is to help organizations improve at a rate greater than historical norms and perhaps even more than thought possible.

This can be achieved by:

<Understanding and adding true value to customers and solving their problems.

<Relentlessly seeking and driving out waste throughout all work processes to make them more efficient.

<Engaging the most valuable resource of an organization, its people – unlocking creativity and giving the opportunity, skills and support to solve challenges.

<Leadership that supports them with the system, structure and expectations required for success.

<Providing focus on the critical areas of improvement.

<Continually learning from inside and outside the organization and from improvement efforts.

<Using reliable data and information-based methods to understand and solve problems.

<Installing and making operational the improvements with reliable standardized work, training and feedback systems.

<Success also requires leaders with an organizational vision, a passion for learning and excellence and a belief in people.

Chris Bujak and Pam Vecellio of Continual Impact (www.continualimpact.com) of Kempton help to create financial and personal benefits and build a culture of growth, innovation and high performance. Continual improvement methods (lean, six sigma, quality and change management) are taught with hands-on application and coaching to involve everyone. They can be reached at administrator@continualimpact.com.

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