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Is it important to have a plan for successful improvement?

How important is a plan for you to succeed in your improvement work? I claim that it is very important for success.

There are two types of improvement work;

  1. continuous improvement
  2. planned lifting of an activity

I write about it in the book The 36 Golden Nuggets to a Highly Successful Business and show the picture below to illustrate this.


Continuous improvement

These are something that should be with us every day in our work. It doesn’t so much require a plan as it does a process to work on our continuous improvements.

It can be as simple as putting suggestions for improvement on a whiteboard with post it notes, which we then review once a week at our weekly meeting. There we discuss the proposal and decide if we should implement it, and then also who will take charge of it and when it should be ready.

Many times these proposals are of a minor nature, which will be taken care of by someone to be ready within a week or so. Sometimes, however, more radical measures are needed, such as procuring a new and better system support, which then becomes a whole project.

These improvements often provide the much-needed small steps forward to continually improve. Every day and every week.

Planned lifts of an activity

This category of improvements is more extensive, but also provides a more thorough and long-term improvement of the business.

In my experience, you need to tackle this category first in order to get something out of the ongoing improvement work. The continuous improvements are incredibly important and they need to be built on an activity that has been thoroughly created to be at a higher qualitative level.

Without lifting the business first, there is a clear risk that the ongoing, smaller, improvements only “scratch the surface” of the real potential of the business.

Key elements to understand

To look at the more fundamental improvement work, it is based on a series of key elements. I choose four of them here:

  • Understanding the WHY.
  • WHO you are for and what they want and need.
  • What value-adding flows you have that satisfy your customers, whatever you call them.
  • How you prioritise implementing your improvement work.

I’ll say a little more about points one and two above, and return to points three and four in next week’s newsletter.

Understanding the WHY

This part I’ve talked about in other weekly newsletters and there’s no stopping how important it is to understanding who we are and why we exist. People throughout the ages have been looking for WHY; why do I exist and why do I do what I do?

When we set up an improvement programme, it is incredibly important that we are clear about our WHY. And I don’t mean just so that some single individual, such as the boss, can explain it. No, it needs to be clear to everyone WHY you exist. What is your purpose for existing in the form that you do?

This differs slightly depending on the view you have when looking at the business. If you ask yourself “Why does our municipality exist?” or “Why does our group exist?”, the answer will be different and more elusive than if you ask yourself “Why does my administration exist?” or possibly “Why does my department exist?”

The lower you go in a business, the more concrete the purpose can be. However, this does not make the more “vague” purpose unimportant. Not at all, and rather the other way around. It is the broader purpose that sets the direction for the detailed objectives.

Without an overall purpose, it is easy for the detailed purposes to be out of alignment. They will not work together to meet the overall objective.

Both the overall and detailed objectives are always important to keep in mind. When it comes to setting up an improvement process, it’s even more important to keep track. Otherwise, it’s a bit like not knowing the purpose of a house you’re building. There is a huge difference between a warehouse, an office and a residential building. If you don’t understand that, it’s hard to build something you’ll be happy with.

WHO you are for and what they want and need

The second thing to keep in mind is WHO you exist for. To some extent, this is often built into the purpose, but it is not enough to be able to prioritise what we need and want to improve first.

You need to know exactly who your customers are, whatever you call them. Probably there are a lot of different variants of them and they all have different requirements, in terms of wants and needs.

Without knowing in more detail WHO you exist for and what you need to deliver to them, it is also difficult to see clearly what value-creating flows you have and need to have in your business. It’s only after you focus on the customers that you can move from having an inside-out view to having an outside-in view.

It’s so simple that we build our business based on how we see our business, and then we “forget” about the customers and what they need. So often I see businesses organised according to an internal “what’s good for us” perspective, instead of understanding that it should have a different structure that focuses on creating customer value.

SoBE, phase 1: Planning and organising

This autumn we will start the next round of the Certified Improvement Leader training which is now upgraded with the latest version of the Shaper of Business Excellence improvement methodology.

The first phase of five is to plan and organise your improvement work. This includes the two areas mentioned above.

I meet so many organisations that have implemented improvement work without actually having created the necessary foundation. You’re so eager to get started, you forget that all buildings are built on a solid foundation. Without it, it’s easy for everything to fall apart a bit into construction.

And indeed, that’s how it goes for those who mess with the basics. You work for a while and then it all goes to waste and you don’t get much out of the effort you’ve made. Processes are mapped, but no more than that. Some may have been designed to be better, but never implemented “for real” in the business.

To remedy this, the method includes Phase 1 Plan and Organise
Shaper of Business Excellence
and of course in the Certified Improvement Leader training. What else? To be able to lead the improvement work in a good way, you also need a basic plan to follow and to update along the way.


Are you interested in learning more about how you could lead and drive your improvement efforts? Then I think you should sign up for the entry list. This means that you will receive more information before it is released to all “others”. I will also be able to answer your specific questions about your improvement work.

Click here to sign up for the entry list. Of course, it is completely unconditional and you have not committed yourself to anything, but only said that you want more information.

Until next time,