How to build a Continuous Improvement culture
When it comes to project fails, ‘Once is a mistake, twice is a pattern, three times is a habit’.
By Emilie House, Futureworx Architect
Many a project has made mistakes, but all too often those mistakes are not new; they’re part of a pattern – or worse still, a habit. So why do some companies make the same mistakes over and over again?
One reason is that the Lessons Learned process – even when followed with the best of intentions – doesn’t work if it’s not given the attention it deserves.
Lessons Learned reviews are part of the Project Life Cycle, often left until the end or until major milestone reviews when, quite honestly, everyone is a bit distracted by other goings-on.
Chances are you’ve taken part in one or two Lessons Learned reviews in the past. Was it good for you? Did you feel heard? Did the right lessons get captured? Were those lessons embedded culturally? And did anything change as a result? Or, to put it another way, were the lessons actually learned?
If you answered ‘No’ to any of the above questions, then read on!
At Futureworx, our Continuous Improvement (CI) process is just that – continuous, and improving, similar to being in a state of perpetual beta. What do we do that makes us different? I like to think it’s a bit about ‘Process’, and a lot about ‘Culture’.
Covid-19 can take some credit for our process, as we started holding all CI reviews over MS Teams. A shared and simple PowerPoint document is set up by the self-appointed Chair, which everyone opens simultaneously.
As the meeting progresses, we step through the different in-scope areas. For example, if it’s a CI review at the end of a one-month Explore Options cycle, there’s one slide per sprint of the cycle.
Everyone can write their ideas in the document at the same time. Each slide usually has five minutes allocated to writing down ideas and up to 10 minutes for discussion of the items controlled by the self-appointed Chair.
With this approach, we stay within scope and on schedule, so the meetings never over-run.
Our ideas are categorised: Just Do, Immediate, and Urgent.
- Just Do is typically a behaviour change, or recognition of something that’s working well. If the group agrees, we adopt it in our day-to-day activities. An example might be ‘Ensure we have the right people at mid-week consolidation sessions’ or ‘The new roadmap format is better than the old – keep using this one’.
- Immediate items need attention before the next cycle, such as ‘Ensure access to relevant technical publication is made in good time’.
- Urgent is something which requires action during the next Explore Cycle. An example would be ‘Look into training courses for specialist software’.
In the closing stage of the meeting, Immediate and Urgent items get entered into the Teams Task List, with owners and due dates assigned.
Our process may or may not be unique, but what really makes us different is the embedding of our process within the Futureworx team learning culture.
Firstly, we don’t look for special occasions like project wrap-ups or gate reviews; we hold regular CI reviews across all aspects of our work that are called and chaired by any member of the team as and when they wish.
We rapidly capture constructive, relevant and meaningful lessons within a very short one-hour meeting (at most).
We are disciplined. We reflect on the Just Do’s to ensure they become business as usual, and don’t end up lost in a database somewhere. To date, we have embedded approximately 80 Just Do’s in our day-to-day behaviours, environment and processes.
We don’t seek to fix problems in the meeting but capture the bigger tasks as actions to be taken away by nominated team members, typically the person who articulated the improvement.
All voices get heard equally.
CI reviews are prioritised by the team. No one dreads the meeting (in fact many of us look forward to it!) and no one is lumbered with the job of typing up illegible post-it notes at the end.
For these reasons, our CI process works for us. We learn from our mistakes before they become habits, and this means we can spend more time on growing great ideas to solve practical problems.
Is there room for improvement in your CI culture and process.