Getting Started with Continuous Improvement, Part 3: Continuously Improving

In the first two posts of this series, we discussed how to get started with continuous improvement: First, how to prepare to practice continuous improvement, by setting up a Kanban board that enables you to track and measure your team’s work. Then, we shared how to gather, prioritize, implement, and measure the impact of your team’s continuous improvement ideas.

We used the ‘PDAC’ framework to explain the first few steps of continuous improvement: Plan, Do, and Check.

In this post, we’ll share what happens next: Truly embedding continuous improvement into your team’s process and Adjusting (A) improvement activities continuously based on what you learn. We’ll discuss our best tips for making continuous improvement ‘stick’ with your team and share the story of how one team has used LeanKit to improve their cycle times and overall efficiency with continuous improvement!

Tips for Making Continuous Improvement ‘Stick’

In order to truly make practicing continuous improvement a part of your team’s workflow, it’s important to proactively, consciously take steps to ensure that this happens.

Establish a regular cadence for Kaizen meetings/retrospectives.

Although most teams likely see value in their continuous improvement, or Kaizen, activities and meetings, it’s usually the first thing to go when teams get ‘busy’.

To avoid letting continuous improvement initiatives slide into the ether of ‘someday’, it’s important to establish a regular cadence for Kaizen meetings/retrospectives. Most teams find success when they align these meetings with their planning cadence. For example, if your organization undergoes PI planning, setting aside a specific meeting during that time to review and discuss continuous improvement initiatives could be a great way to ensure that Kaizen work doesn’t go stale.

One LeanKit customer (the web analytics development team for a major US insurance company) explained, “We want to keep up our focus on continuous improvement, so we’ve set up a quarterly meeting to pick a set of metrics that we’ll hone in on for the upcoming quarter.“

Ideally, this won’t be the only time that improvement activities are discussed - but it should serve as a regular, more formal forum where new and existing ideas can be discussed and prioritized as a group. This is also the time to measure the impact of improvement activities, and adjust strategies as needed.

The customer shared how they use LeanKit’s Reporting capabilities to inform continuous improvement decisions:

“For example, by using the Flow/Efficiency report, I can see exactly where the work is waiting and dig into where we’re getting blocked. In the instances where the block happens due to a dependency on an external group, the data helps me quantify how much time we’re losing while we’re waiting for them to do their part. With that information, I can better negotiate for extra resources and close the gap on response time.”

Track Kaizen work on your team Kanban board.

In the earlier posts in this series, we discussed the importance of visualizing continuous improvement activity alongside other work on your team’s Kanban board. You might choose to differentiate these cards by using a different card type.

This is helpful for several reasons. First, it will encourage your team to treat continuous improvement work as seriously as prioritized project work. Second, it will help you accurately manage capacity and WIP, as you’ll be able to see all the work your team actually has in process (not just prioritized project work).

One LeanKit customer shared this about how his team benefits from using a Kanban board for their improvement activity:

“The board itself has two teams: my team, which is the web analytics development team, and the BAs, which make up the web analytics enablement team. We’re kind of tied at the hip, so being able to see our work flow through a shared process is key. It helps us keep our work moving and ask more targeted questions when it’s stuck.”

Finally, including Kaizen work on your Kanban board will enable you to discuss Kaizen activity during your regular standups. To do this, simply add a question about your continuous improvement activities to your other regular standup questions, such as: What improvement activities do we currently have in process, and what do we need to do to move them along?

Celebrate Kaizen wins like all other work wins.

You’ve probably heard about the merits of celebrating small wins. Whether in our personal or professional lives, taking time to acknowledge the little signs of progress can help us stay motivated to work toward the big things.

Celebrating small wins is especially important if you’re trying to incorporate continuous improvement into your team’s daily workflow. Sometimes, continuous improvement activities might require tedious, labor-intensive lifts that will have a huge impact in the long-run - but in the short-term, might take team members away from other prioritized work.

For this reason, to some people on your team, spending time on continuous improvement activity may feel like a risk, since it might not directly or immediately make a measurable impact. This is why it’s critical for Lean leaders to make a point to recognize and celebrate continuous improvement activity, just as much if not more than prioritized project work.

Here are a few ways you can celebrate small Kaizen wins on your team:

  • Share ‘shoutouts’ on your team Slack when a Kaizen project is completed
  • Acknowledge Kaizen wins during larger organizational meetings
  • Host a team ‘Demo Day’ where team members can share
  • Host team ‘Lunch and Learns’ where team members can share insights learned from improvement projects

By celebrating those small Kaizen wins, you’ll create a safe space for your team to continue identifying and pursuing ways to boost your team’s efficiency, productivity, and ability to deliver value. You’ll demonstrate to your team that continuous improvement activities matter - and that effort spent on Kaizen work will be recognized.

Include continuous improvement briefing when onboarding new team members.

Finally, another way to make continuous improvement stick is to make sure that everyone on the team has a complete understanding of how it works - especially as your team grows. Make continuous improvement activity inclusive to everyone on your team and encourage long-term buy-in by building it into your team’s onboarding process.

This way, new team members - who might have incredibly valuable perspective as a ‘fresh’ set of eyes - will be able to participate actively in continuous improvement activity.

Go forth and continuously improve!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this three-part series on continuous improvement, and that it’s helped you feel ready to start practicing continuous improvement with your team.

Maja Majewski

Maja has always been interested in the intersection of psychology and business. After studying Human and Organizational Development and Corporate Strategy at Vanderbilt University, Maja joined the LeanKit team as a content writer, where she was able to dive deeper into her exploration of how people, processes, and technology interact. She has authored over 200 articles and ebooks for several high-growth B2B companies, including LeanKit, Planview, Customer.io, and Clearbit. She served as the lead writer and researcher on LeanKit's Lean Business Report in 2016.

When not writing about process improvement, Maja practices it in her personal life - finding applications for her mantra "Better than before!" in everything from cooking to exercising. She enjoys spending time at home and going on adventurous vacations with her boyfriend and their German Shorthaired Pointer, Wrigley. Connect with Maja.