Why Do Companies Ignore Continuous Improvement?

Do you believe that companies that are more efficient, have faster throughput, suffer less waste, and have high customer satisfaction scores are more likely to be among the profit leaders? If you accept that, then why don’t more companies place a sustained and intense focus on improving their operational performance?

There are a variety of reasons. Here are the major ones.


Change Starts at the Top

Company executives think it is going to take more time and effort than they have available. It’s certainly true that operating with plenty of inherent waste (defects, excessive motion/transportation, waiting, too much inventory, etc.) causes stress on the system and steals time that could be used for improvement activities. But customers don’t just buy your products, they also indirectly buy your processes. Fixing them means putting your customers first, and should also lead to happier employees. That and a long-term profitability increase should be enough motivation for companies to figure out how to devote resources to improvement. It’s common to get outside assistance when first putting a continuous improvement (CI) strategy in place. CI Ready!, our virtual hour-a-day event on April 19-22, will offer guidance on how to get started.

Continuous Improvement ProfitabilityThere may not be a top executive interested in assuming the role of the improvement champion at a company. If the necessary motivation is missing, the company is stuck in place. A department may improve because of an improvement-minded supervisor; however, an overall CI strategy will only succeed if championed from the top. Perhaps the existing profit level is OK, and the operation is thought to be performing acceptably. That may describe the view of many companies during a period of prolonged economic growth — there is no pain to create the urge to change. Benchmarking against other companies could raise the awareness of performance gaps. Business disruption from a pandemic is a perfect time to challenge the status quo. 

Technology Is not the All-Encompassing Solution

Another reason that CI gets ignored is because companies believe they are addressing improvement through their technology strategy. Technology can be part of an improvement effort, but it is insufficient by itself, especially since it doesn’t create competitive advantage (other companies can usually purchase the same equipment or workflow components). Sustainable competitive advantage occurs because of thousands of small improvements that can’t be easily copied. While new equipment may be faster and reduce the frequency of quality defects, most non-value-added time in operations occurs before and after production processes. 

Leadership may believe that the company is already improving without the need for a special strategy. It’s true that companies routinely find ways to do things better, but at what pace? Companies improving faster have the advantage and reap the benefits. To do that requires a structured approach. 

A significant reason that senior executives don’t commit to a continuous improvement strategy is that they don’t understand the concepts and how to get started. It requires knowledge, which is precisely why PRINTING United Alliance is conducting CI Ready!. The event is tailor-made for executives and managers who are either exploring the value of a CI strategy, may be in the early stages of implementing one, or need to educate employees on the principles and tools. The Alliance also conducts an annual CI Conference (the 2021 iteration is Aug. 22-24 in Columbus, Ohio). Further, we have an Improvement Professional in Print certification.

If you want to evaluate your current level of knowledge about continuous improvement, I suggest you take our 10-question quiz. A perfect score may mean that CI Ready! is better suited to a fellow employee who is not so knowledgeable. On the other hand, two award-winning authors and keynote speakers are participating that you wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to hear speak. For example, if you struggle getting employees to contribute improvement ideas, the ideas you’ll gain from Alan Robinson could be business changing.

Getting companies to move out of their comfort zone to adopt a CI strategy is difficult, and most won’t do it. By contrast, companies with active CI initiatives are reducing wasted time and effort, lowering spoilage and other operational costs, and benefitting from more engaged employees. Ignorance of continuous improvement, no matter why it occurs, can keep companies profit-challenged and ultimately threaten their survival. 

Learn more about CI Ready! and register today.

James Workman
Jim Workman is VP, Technology and Research, for PRINTING United Alliance. He is responsible for its annual Continuous Improvement Conference, the InterTech Technology Awards, and the association’s consulting services, as well as serving as managing director of the TAGA.