Continuous Improvement – why it matters to Squeeze the Pips, Release Trojan Mice and Win Small

20130728-210823.jpgI recently heard someone being very dismissive about staff suggestion schemes and efforts to encourage small improvements. He was one of those “what you need is a paradigm shift”…..and…., “I’m just the fella to tell you what your big new idea needs to be” types . Oh, and he threw in something along the lines of…. “the old thinking that got you into this problem won’t get you out of it”. Don’t you just love ’em…..

I’m not against the idea of different thinking and paradigm shifts (here is the definition of paradigm shift, if like me, you don’t really understand what it means).

What I do think is, that there is plenty of opportunity to make some of our existing things much better. Before charging off to chase the next ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’, make sure you’ve done the best with what you have. Small scale continuous improvement and large-scale change can exist in the same universe. I also think that if you are continually thinking about continuous improvement, this just might help come up with the next big, paradigm shifting, idea.

Here are three reasons why I think we need small-scale continuous improvement; Squeezing the Pips, Releasing Trojan Mice, and Winning Small.

Squeezing the Pips. There are huge opportunities to improve how things work. To squeeze out a bit more waste and squeeze in a bit more customer focus. To squeeze out a few more of the time-wasting meetings and squeeze in a bit more product improvement. If this wasn’t true, there wouldn’t be any reason for the dozens of business improvement and Lean consultants selling their services. I think as humans many of us have difficulty with sustaining interest in a topic, which I have touched on previously in a post about longevity. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to ‘squeeze the pips’. If you are interested, I’d recommend having a look at what the ‘pip squeezing’, All Wales Continuous Improvement Community are up to.

Releasing Trojan Mice. Trojan Mice are; safe to fail experiments or pilot projects, small focused changes introduced in an inconspicuous way, or ‘ideas’ let loose to see where they end up. I like the idea of Trojan Mice and have written about them previously. In the context of continuous improvement they are the multitude of small changes that are generated by the people involved in an activity. They are a diverse range of ideas that are worth testing in a safe to fail environment, rather than waiting for the one big idea (from the top) that will save us all.

Winning Small. Here is a bit of science that seems to fit with what I’m saying. At Academi Wales Summer School this year I heard Professor Ian Robertson talk about the science of winning. You can watch him explain his research in this video. The gist of the lecture was, if you win small things, your brain chemistry is changed, making it more likely that you will go on to win bigger contests. Lots of the examples he used were drawn from sport, but you could potentially apply this to the world of continuous improvement. If you have lots of small successful ideas, this prepares your to have bigger more successful ideas.

Keeping the Engine Turning. A final thought about some of the things I’ve heard about staff suggestion schemes on the Ideas UK Networking Meetings I’ve attended. I’ve heard it mentioned many times that small incremental changes are necessary to ‘keep the engine turning’ and maintain momentum. At Ricoh for example they say that about 80% of the improvement ideas suggested by the staff are quite small things. These are the small acts of continuous improvements that are implemented at team level, ‘that keep the ideas engine turning’. This level of activity is necessary to support the generation of the 20%, ‘big ideas’.

Small ideas are important and they do count.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Think hard about improving what you’ve got already, before chasing ‘pots of gold at the end of the rainbow’.
  2. Winning with small continuous improvement ideas can help to set you up for the big winner.
  3. Staff who are closest to the action, with deep experience, are best placed to come up with improvement ideas, rather than from ‘Mr New Paradigm’.

Picture source: It’s actually one of mine.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

16 Responses

  1. All three of your what’s the Pont demonstrates that you don’t necessarily have to ‘throw money/resources at’ services to improve the service. Which has tradtionally been the starting point to change.

  2. Tony Dowling

    Hi Chris! Great post 🙂
    I remember seeing a talk by a professor, I think he was the brightest mind I’ve ever encountered, mad as a beet root too incidentally.
    He reckoned, and talked about the proof too, which I forget now, that almost all transformational change fails
    Transactional, small bite sized change is always the way to go
    Do you actually know of any successful transformational change programmes?
    They are few and far between

  3. Great post & spot on.
    If only more people realised & took the time to invest in these ‘ponts’ , there would be more truly great places to work, many more effective businesses, & more genunely satisfied customers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s