Creating a Mindset of Continuous Process Improvement

Creating a Mindset of Continuous Process Improvement

Process improvement is a continuous strategic effort that requires a little practice.

Process improvement is a continuous strategic effort that requires a little practice.

Guest Post from Vincent Mirabelli CBAP, CCXP, MBB, PMP

The movie Groundhog Day has Bill Murray playing Phil Connors, a self-absorbed weatherman who spent as little time thinking about the future as he did preparing the forecast. Phil is thrust into a time warp where he is forced to live the same February 2nd over and over.

After eight years of trials, anger and frustration, Phil finally gets it and changes his outlook and his life. The lesson for a process improvement culture? Don’t live the same problems over and over. 

Process improvement should be continuous and not a singular event repeated over and over. If treated as a singular event, the flow looks like this:

  1. An issue or failure is identified. 
  2. The symptom of the issue is fixed. 
  3. You move on…
  4. Until the next time that is.

Continuous process improvement should be just what the name implies, improvement to organizational processes that is ongoing and forward thinking.

In Nine Steps to Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement I provided some overarching ideas that an organization should implement in order to move toward a culture where seeking out the best possible processes is included in the mission, values and long term goals. 

I want to share some ideas with you on how you can work to ingrain a mindset of continuous process improvement into your culture.

Kaizen – Making Continuous Process Improvement a Habit  

Kaizen is a Japanese term for gradual and perpetual improvement. The Japanese word Kaizen doesn’t have a literal, one word translation but is instead embodies a philosophy. The term was brought to the world of process improvement by Masaaki Imai in his 1986 book, Kaizen (Ky'zen), the key to Japan's competitive success

Kaizen is the Japanese cousin to Lean Six Sigma. The goals of both concepts in the end lend themselves to continuous process improvement. Lean Six Sigma is a more goals and results oriented approach that focuses on reduction of waste and the utilization of data to identify potential issues and create goals to improve overall processes. 

The Kaizen philosophy should be utilized to reinforce process improvement as a habit. Continuous process improvement is a culture to be created, a mindset to be adopted so the goals that are set in Lean Six Sigma are geared toward the long term success of the organization.

Trim the Fat – Lean in Action

The concept of Lean focuses on removal of waste from processes to make them more efficient and effective in meeting organizational goals. The ideal situation in a Lean manufacturing environment would be that waste reduction not only be focused on raw materials utilization and product defects, but also in the area of inefficient process. Time and energy waste are also areas in which Lean pays attention.

Lean asks the question, “What is the best process, both in the areas of materials use as well as process efficiency and effectiveness?”

Six Sigma - Results Orientation in Process Improvement

Six Sigma is where the rubber meets the road in process improvement. Kaizen and Lean philosophies set the stage for a mindset and culture of continuous process improvement. Six Sigma is the measurement, analysis and results orientation of these philosophies. There are five high level steps in the Six Sigma approach, Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control, (DMAIC). 

  • Define (In the definition step organizations need to identify the challenge or problem, then describe how the final desired outcome looks. At this point stakeholder needs should be identified and addressed.) 
  • Measure (In Measuring KPI, The Numbers of Process Improvement I discussed the beginning stages of measurement in a Lean Six Sigma culture. Adoption of the RIGHT measurements is critical in ensuring appropriate and accurate measurements are collected so that goals and action steps created from the measurements are in line with long term company goals and take you in the right direction.)
  • Analyze (In Embrace Failure – It Leads to Growth I introduced an approach to analysis called Process Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (PFMEA). This is a forward thinking approach that should be considered when turning the philosophy corner to goal oriented results.)
  • Improve (The improvements step proposed in DMAIC is problem focused, but does consider overall organizational goals. This is where a nod should be given to the Kaizen and Lean philosophies as improvements should be the best long term solution based on the definition, measurements and analysis.)
  • Control (This step of Six Sigma aligns itself with the long term mission by placing controls and measures in place to review process changes going forward. If a process is managed and monitored, success can be measured and potentially repeated in other areas of the organization.) 

Philosophy to Action – Changing the Culture of Process Improvement

Taking a philosophy of continuing process improvement and implementing it into organizational culture is not for the faint of heart. A culture is created by communicating a unified vision of mission, values and goals, focusing energies toward the vision then working consistently to maintain the focus.

Sounds easy doesn’t it?

In August 2017 I wrote an article called “To Change Culture, You Need to Change Culture.” I conducted a small personal experiment by wearing jeans to the office. My hypothesis? Wearing jeans would not affect my ability to think, create and innovate.

Okay, this was not an earth-shattering challenge to culture shift, but that’s the point.

In an era where companies struggle to attract and retain good employees, why are they so slow to adopt culture change even when the change is a seemingly simple idea like a relaxed dress code? 

This is where Kaizen can be helpful. Masaaki Imai summed it up when he said, “The message of the Kaizen strategy is that not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made somewhere in the company.”

Take incremental steps toward the vision and a culture of continuous process improvement.

Get Out of the Groundhog Day Cycle

I started off with examples of how living day to day and issue to issue with process improvement can put you in a rut of circular change. Similar failures are experienced over and over again because the resolution of individual issues are not considered in a larger context or alongside long term organizational goals. 

On the flip side, the long term priorities and initiatives of your organization should include the incorporation of continuous process improvement into your culture. Only with the inclusion of this initiative will you be able to measure and recognize steady improvements in process and move away from treating the symptoms. 

The movie Groundhog Day was a glib example of how repeating the past and not looking to the future can doom your organization to live the same day over and over. Don’t be Phil Connors.

  • Communicate a philosophy of continuous process improvement
  • Share the vision for long term improvement with your people
  • Develop the tools to take the philosophy to action
  • Review actions to ensure they are in line with the long term vision

Let me know how you have taken steps to change your future. 


Vincent Mirabelli CBAP, CCXP, MBB, PMP is a frequent speaker and workshop facilitator, host of the podcast, “In Process”, and co-host of “The Vince and Mike Coffee Experience” podcast. He is an occasional writer on LinkedIn, Medium, and his own blog on the topics of Process Improvement and Innovation, Lean Six Sigma, Project Management, and Business Analysis.