Continuous Improvement Program Best Practices

Keith C Norris
4 min readNov 26, 2020

From Program to Culture…

Who is this article for:

  • anyone interested in Continuous Improvement or Operational Excellence, strategic planning, or business execution.

Why is Continuous Improvement Important:

  • Every organization has competition. If you are not improving, you are loosing ground to your competitors and your competitive advantage is shrinking.

Should Continuous Improvement be part of our Strategic Plan?

  • YES. The essence of a strategic plan is develop strategies that will move your organization forward. Continuous Improvement IS THE critical pillar in any strategic plan.

What do we need to communicate to our employees about Continuous Improvement?

  • Continuous Improvement is critical to the mission of the organization.
  • Everyone has 2 jobs: #1) the job you were hired to do, and #2) to improve your job.
  • Improvement work is the path to promotion. If you want to “get ahead” in this company, you need to be involved in the improvement work. People who can solve problems and make things better are the most valuable leaders in any organization. You want to recognize and reward this behavior.

How much time should we allocate to “Improvement work”? The answer to this question will vary based on the persons position in the organization.

  • Senior executives should spend as close to100% of their time on “Improvement Projects” as possible. The projects go by many names; strategic initiatives, hitting Key Performance Indicators, hitting the plan.
  • Managers: While most of your efforts are keeping things running and making the plan, hopefully you are listening to your front-line workers and helping solve the problems that can improve their work.
  • Line level employees will spend most of their time “doing the work”, but should be expected to share ideas for improvement with their managers.

What are some of the Important systems or Behaviors that we need to be doing?

  • Communicate Strategic Priorities. Make sure the organization knows what the strategy is. These strategic goals should be communicated regularly & prominently.
  • Idea Capture & Idea Funnel: Everyone should be invited & encouraged to share ideas for improvement. You need a place to capture these ideas.
  • Identify & Assign Improvement Program leaders. Initially you might assign certain process improvement projects to a group of specially trained resources, ie Black Belts, Green Belts, Process Engineers. This is a good step, but make sure that you organization doesn’t look at that group as the only way that projects get done.
  • Identify & Manage Key Improvement Projects. Once you identify Improvement work, you need to make sure you properly document it as a project with a specific problem to solve, and a target outcome. A weekly meeting at the department level is ideal for reviewing key projects to ensure they are moving forward.
  • Celebrate successes. Celebrate it when employees share ideas for improvement, celebrate when a key improvement project is completed. Everyone worth having in your organization will like to be recognized for positive contribution. When you do this, you feed the cycle of engagement and improvement.
  • Be accountable to results. Not every improvement project is going to be a huge success. If you are accountable to the wins, and the losses, the wins will have more impact.

How do all of these behaviors fit together?

What problems will we encounter?

  • Too many ideas: When you first ask employees for ideas for improvement you might get overwhelmed. These first responses could be all over the map. Your first reaction might be to think that some of these ideas are trivial or not worth your time. In a sense you might be right. Some of the ideas might not be worth assigning a Senior leader, or Project Manager or Black Belt. However, if the idea was shared, it is probably important to someone. If employees are just sharing ideas but not willing to act on the ideas then you have some work to do. Review the list of ideas with the team and assign effort vs. impact values to them & help the team see that there might be other ideas that need to be done first before their pet project can move forward.
  • Not enough resources: The flip side of having too many ideas, is not having enough resources (people, knowledge, or cash) to execute on the good ideas. This can be solved by implementing a training program for “change leaders”. Ideally this program can be built in connection with the Human Resources department and can be part of a leadership advancement track. The people in your organization who have ideas for improvement, are are willing to go above and beyond the regular call of duty to learn how to make things better, are EXACTLY the kind of people you want to promote. This problem can be solved by sending people to Green Belt training, or by hiring a consultant to train resources internally.

About Keith Norris

Keith is an advocate of process improvement, goal planning and a leader of the ‘culture of productivity’ tribe. An author, lifelong entrepreneur, proud husband and father, road & mountain bicyclist, and ice hockey player, Keith’s day job is CEO of Complete XRM, inc. (KPI Fire, Pocket Informant, and PlanPlusOnline). Connect with Keith on LinkedIn.



Keith C Norris

CEO of Complete XRM, inc, Fanatic about Planning, husband, father, and road bike enthusiast.