Eight steps to creating a continuous improvement team

Each member of a continuous improvement team should represent a function or process within the company so everyone is included.
By Gary McGregor June 22, 2017

The continuous improvement team is in place to manage the process and immerse the group in an environment conducive to improving the company’s environment and culture. If the following eight-step process is completed effectively, a continuous improvement team will be able to influence company culture in a positive way.

This flow chart shows how the team’s role fits into the overall business transformation process. Courtesy: Ultra Consultants1. Form a continuous improvement team

This team is not a committee with the job of keeping an eye on the process. The continuous improvement team is actively engaged in defining and implementing projects while managing the overall process.

They are immersed in every aspect of the process and may be an active leader or participant in a project. On the other hand, this assignment is not a full-time job.

Team members who are high-powered performers and likely to become future leaders of the company should be among those selected. Clearly stated requirements should be mentioned up front so all team members understand that continuous improvement team membership is a special reward, and will be over and above their normal duties within the company.

Each continuous improvement team member should represent a function or process within the company and be fully empowered to make project-related decisions for their area of responsibility.

An ideal team size is 4 to 6 people. This will allow deep relationships and a solid sense of camaraderie to develop. Keeping the team size in this range will also reduce scheduling challenges for meetings and allow the team to manage internal discussion efficiently.

2. Create the continuous improvement team environment

The team’s primary goal is to manage the opportunity-benefit matrix (OBM). The OBM contains all identified opportunities is a prioritized format, including an estimate of the opportunity’s impact on the company.

Projects should only be actively addressed after significant discussion among the team members. This discussion should ensure a significant commitment to marshaling the resources necessary for a successful implementation process. It should also mention the availability of said resources so the project can be completed in the allotted time frame.

3. Create a balanced scorecard of performance metrics

This step involves creating a balanced scorecard of performance metrics that will provide immediate feedback on the effectiveness of the implemented projects.

Don’t focus on financial metrics only. These can be managed by senior management and likely already exist in the company. The focus for the continuous improvement team can be managed by measuring process cycle time, productivity of a given process (outputs divided by inputs) and inventory reduction.

4. Set up regular meetings

Developing a consistent rhythm is critical to the creation of an environment where the transformation effort becomes part of the organizational culture.

The transformation lead team should meet at least bi-weekly to track the status of active projects. Weekly meetings will be warranted when new projects are launched or when obstacles to success are encountered. Attendance should be required at every meeting.

5. Manage the tasks required to complete projects

This step in the process is when real work begins. Of the many opportunities for improvement within an organization, most—if not all—seem to be worthwhile. However, not all projects have an equal financial impact or can be handled simultaneously.

Managed effectively, projects will be completed successfully and on time. If not, dates slip, frustration ensues and no one is satisfied.

6. Schedule high-impact rapid improvement events

Everyone likes to be a winner! This is true for both organizations and the individuals on a team. Meeting aggressive goals serves to embolden and drive all of us.

Companies have several longer-term efforts in their project portfolios, but should leave the capacity for some short-term wins.

7. Tell a story through high-powered communication

It’s easy to get caught up in the journey, but don’t forget to tell the rest of the organization what’s going on. A monthly newsletter is a good place to start. These can be easily supplemented with social medial blasts for special events.

An effective communication program will educate and energize the entire company. Over time, the communication program will cement the change process solidly into the company culture.

8. Develop a solid relationship with senior management

It is important to keep the boss in the loop. The properly defined continuous improvement program will fit solidly into the company’s long range plan and support both near and longer term goals.

A report from the continuous improvement team to the management team should be a fixed agenda item at monthly staff/performance review meetings. This should be supplemented with reports on the performance of team members covering both accomplishments and areas for development.

Finally, involve as many other members of the management team in both the Kaizen blitz events and longer-term projects. This involvement will serve as another means of anchoring the culture change throughout the company.

Benefits of a continuous improvement team

Creating an effective continuous improvement team may seem daunting, but ultimately provides many benefits to company culture. The real payback for all these efforts will come about by driving the long-term changes in culture and behavior the new system will make possible. Making this happen requires the discipline to define and manage projects using the continuous improvement tools such as Six Sigma and Lean.

Gary McGregor, Ultra Consultants. This article originally appeared on Ultra Consultants’ website. Ultra Consultants is a CFE content partner. Edited by Hannah Cox, content specialist, CFE Media, hcox@cfemedia.com.