What is an improvement?
There are plenty of things I do individually and that I see in business that make things better. Better financially, lower personal stress, fewer steps in a process, etc. etc.
But there seem to be just as many, if not more, activities that are merely a change without any obvious benefit. Here's some interesting thinking about Continuous Improvement organizations from long-time Theory of Constraints thinker, Mark Woeppel. Is Your Continuous Improvement Organization a Profit Center?
Continuous Improvement (CI) organizations must be profit centers, not cost centers. Too often, these organizations are established with little thought as to how they will function with the rest of the organization. As a result, the CI organization goes about aimlessly “improving”, with no bottom line results from their effort. No results = no buy-in. No buy-in = resistance to change. Resistance to change reinforces the lack of results. Without any real results for their effort, people become discouraged. If the cycle is not broken, the improvement initiative fails and management moves on to the next “thing”. People become even more cynical because they think it’s the next “flavor of the the month”.
This is why we have acronyms like LEAN = Less Employees Are Needed (yes, I know it is improper grammar) or malapropisms like "sick sigma" for Six Sigma. How many improvement projects have you seen that were just shuffling of the deck chairs or moving money from one pot to another?
The point of any improvement project should be to make things better, whether that is the bottom line or your personal situation.
This doesn't prevent experimentation and trying new things. But the experimentation isn't to be considered improvement work. It is "research" which might lead to something that looks like an improvement.
Woeppel posits some elements of making this work that boil down to the improvement center or improvement projects having direct buy-in from management, including a financial element. If the improvements "saves" money, then the budget should be reduced by that amount of savings. Right? If this is a real improvement, then the money won't be needed.
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