Continuous Improvement is a powerful concept often attributed to quality expert Edward Deming.
It has been around for many years and is commonly linked to programs such as Total Quality Management and Six Sigma.
But is it time to move beyond this concept to something bigger and better?
I am suggesting that continuous improvement should in fact be improved.
Enter — small wins innovation.
This can be defined as ‘the continuous process of making my and other people’s lives just a little bit better — each and every day.’
Small wins innovation shares many of the same features as continuous improvement.
– It is a continuous process
– The emphasis is on making small, incremental changes.
– Both processes can be owned and delivered by an individual or a team.
– There are a range of tools and skills which can be taught and learned relatively easily.
– The aim in both cases is to engage and empower large numbers of people in an organisation in the idea of continual improvement.
The differences between small wins innovation and continuous improvement.
– The traditional continuous improvement 4 step process is plan, do, check and act.
The small wins innovation process consists of 5 steps — create, test, measure, learn and share.
As can be seen in these 5 steps the small wins approach places just as much emphasis on testing as it does with learning and sharing the results of small wins.
– The language is different.
It is only a small point but with continuous improvement the language is more about finding and eliminating defects in a manufacturing process for example.
With small wins innovation by comparison, the language is more positive, up-beat and concerned with celebrating and sharing small wins.
The emphasis is on learning and building a more idea receptive culture — one win at a time.
– Continuous improvement has typically been applied to internal manufacturing processes.
Small wins innovation by contrast can be used both internally (e.g. test a new meeting approach) and externally (e.g. solving a customer complaint in a new way).
The idea with small wins is to make a difference to people’s lives not just to improve a product.
– Continuous improvement has as its starting point an existing process and trying to make it more efficient, effective or flexible.
Small wins innovation by contrast has as its starting point — why does this practice or process exist? Or what if we deleted it all together?
– Continuous improvement tends to swing into gear when there is a problem or some deviation from a standard.
Small wins innovation can emerge when there is a problem and also in a more proactive basis by simply challenging the status quo e.g. let’s challenge the assumption that this product is aimed only at kids?
– The tools of continuous improvement tend to be more based on analysis and statistics.
Small wins innovation draws its inspiration from creativity, the new and different.
It places more emphasis on fast testing and experimentation. A small win for example might be a new learning or an insight.
– Continuous improvement tends to be treated as a separate process to the rest of the organisation delivered or at least supervised by specially trained Six Sigma black belts.
Small wins innovation is championed by anyone in the organisation, at any level. It could be someone in the office or a leader for example.
– As a result small wins innovation aims to complement and in fact enable big wins innovation rather than being separate to the rest of the organisation.
Continuous improvement is a big, powerful idea but perhaps we need to expand the concept so it can become more accessible, exploratory and proactive.
My vision for small wins innovation is that everyone in the organisation has a small wins goal and their own customised program in place.
Imagine releasing the ideas and passion of everyone in the organisation.
Now that is a big idea based on a small wins approach.