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Evaluate and measure – Recognising your commitment to 1% improvement

Continuous improvement does not focus on making huge gains or big improvements in one go. Instead, it focuses on long-term, steady progress towards your larger goals. This means that as a user of continuous improvement, you must also hone your ability to effectively focus on the progress you are making day-to-day, 1% at a time.

The greatest strength and weakness of the Continuous improvement model is that change will inevitably be slow, steady and consistent. As we discussed in the previous blog , it is human nature to look for obvious and substantial changes in ourselves or the situation around us for us to validate our efforts. Being able to evaluate and measure your improvements is important for your own motivation and ongoing commitment to the journey. If you are not measuring your progress, your subconscious brain will likely kick in and delay your progress by convincing you that you are not making any progress at all.

Continuous improvement is commitment to the journey, not the destination. In the spirit of this philosophy, one of the best ways to evaluate your 1% changes is to conduct a weekly review and document your findings. In this review answer the three following questions:

1) Where have I succeeded? What things did I improve upon this week? Acknowledging your progress and small improvements will you encourage you to take future positive actions.

2) Where did things get derailed? What things could you improve next week? By identifying the areas you believe you have to grow, you will be able to focus on making gradual changes to improve them.

3) Where to now? Even if you are happy with your general progress, you need to keep asking yourself what you plan to do as your next step forward. By identifying what you are going to do in the next week to improve, you are ready to commit to those improvements.

These evaluations are pivotal to your success. If you aren’t evaluating your progress, you won’t be able to see your own growth and you are more likely to resume old habits. Gradual improvement is generally fairly hard to see in the short term but huge in the long term. By evaluating our progress we can allow ourselves to see these little improvements.

By taking up the philosophy of Continuous improvement, your life won’t radically change overnight, but over time with consistent and constant improvement and dedication, you will find that you are directing your life along a path with the greatest possibility of success.

Continuous improvement – Keeping your 1% commitment

No matter how hard we tell ourselves that good things come to those who wait, our instinctive need to see big things happen fast is a part of our human nature. While many of us make a commitment to change in theory, in practice it can be much more complicated than simply setting a goal and working to achieve it.

Fortunately, by following the concept of Kaizen (1% improvement) every day, it will enable you to get off the roller coaster ride of feeling like a failure and being angry with yourself because you have given up on achieving your big goals. Instead, the 1% improvement philosophy will reward your efforts towards daily achievement, not momentous change in short bursts.

Despite the immense positive aspects of the incremental improvement model, it is still worth constructing a system around your new commitment to ensure yourself the highest probability of success.

For example, if one of your goals is to eat healthier, this is not something that can be achieved by doing it once or twice off. To achieve a better diet is a day-to-day commitment to yourself and your health made through the conscious choices you make with your food with each meal.

To put the concept of continuous improvement into action, the first thing you need to do is not focus on how much weight you wish to lose, rather focus on creating a system or process that enables you to cut back on the more negative food groups you gravitate to and replace the with positive options instead. This may by through a journal, a calendar or an app, just as long as it is a system that works for you and keeps you self-aware of the day-to-day commitment you have made and the progress you are making.

Once you have created the system that works, you can then break down your system into small actions or behaviours that will allow you to progress with the least amount of resistance and effort. Commit to these actions on a daily basis until your original system is habit. For example, commit to changing junk items from your shopping list to positive alternatives for each week and then increase the number of items each week after that.

Along with setting clear, incrementally focused goals, the other important factor about incremental achievement is that you must be able to evaluate your 1% successes. We will look into some of the ways you can measure your progress in our next blog .

Continuous improvement – Making a 1% commitment

How many times has an impending milestone rolled around, say a New Years or a momentous birthday, and along for the ride are the numerous but very rarely achieved resolutions (e.g. get fit, save more money, make more time for people, get that promotion)?

Unless you are a member of a small minority who are naturally consistent, goal-orientated high achievers, maintaining motivation and the commitment to achieving your goals is often hard and gruelling work. Without a plan in place or support behind you, the road to personal growth and development can seem like an arduous path to tread.

This is where the principles and thought patterns instilled through the practice of continuous improvement can make a huge difference to your personal life. By applying the principles of continuous improvement to your own goals, you can activate the concept of “1% improvement” to the big things you want to achieve in life.

The phrase “slow and steady wins the race” is a perfect summary for continuous improvement. If you truly desire a successful life where you are thriving, the first thing you must do is embrace the length of the journey towards self improvement you are embarking on. It is a lifelong journey of learning, self discovery and growth – it cannot be achieved through random bursts or moments of enthusiasm. On the contrary, only consistent and constant gradual changes that will have impact over time.

Once you are ready to step off the self improvement roller coaster, it’s time to embrace the philosophy of small, continuous improvement.

Start by setting your goals based on the philosophy of 1% incremental achievements. Keep in mind that setting the goal is the fun part. Staying motivated, focused and on track to achieving any goal is the hard part that requires day-to-day action. While the idea of 1% improvement may not seem like much in the short term, the concept of Kaizen (1% improvement from Japanese philosophy) works with the notion that over time, the smaller increments will add up to the achievement of any goal you set. No matter how small the amount of progress you make each day, you are guaranteed to feel a step closer to reacher your goal.

In the next piece  we will be looking into how to keep yourself motivated on your daily 1% journey.

5S Method – Organise

What is 5S

5S is an organisation method with a clear goal: to create a clean and efficient working environment.

When properly implemented, the 5S Method helps identify how a workspace should be organised to improve efficiency and effectiveness by identifying what is needed at each step of a process and ensuring it is immediately available.

  • Sort: Separating of the essential from the nonessential items – is each item of use?
  • Straighten: Organising the essential materials – is every useful items where it should be?
  • Shine: Cleaning the work area – is everything clean and stored properly?
  • Standardise: Establishing a system – does everyone know the 5S Method in your workplace?
  • Sustain: Establishing a safe and sanitary work environment – are team members reminded about 5S on a regular basis in an engaging way?

Why implement

There are many benefits to implementing the 5S Methods into your work area or office. The 5S steps are particularly useful when your overall goal is to reduce many forms of waste in any process or workstation:

  • Optimised organisation – By sorting and straightening the workplace, team members will spend less time looking for items, determining how to use them and returning them to the correct station. If all employees have heightened awareness of the 5S system, each individual will be working in a way that makes achieving workplace goals easier.
  • Efficiency – The 5S system compells organisations to improve efforts aimed to eliminate waste through improving products and services, and thus lowering costs.
  • Larger storage capacity – Standard 5S implementation results in the reduction of unnecessary items from production facilities, freeing up space that can be used more effectively.
  • Heightened safety – A focus on cleaning well-used areas and standardising practices ensures heavily trafficked areas are safer and general worker understanding of consequences of their actions are understood.
  • Morale is increased – Making it routine to implement proper procedures and discipline to avoid backsliding is one of the main objectives of the system. This practice improves the chances of avoiding dark, dirty, disorganized workplaces, which can foster lower morale among employees.

By encouraging your team to respect their workspace and watch for problems, positive change affects the performance of your people and your organisation’s culture. When implemented as part of a larger Lean initiative, the 5S Principles method can reduce waste, improve quality, promote safety and drive continuous improvement.

Minimising and maximising meetings

Eliminating activities that don’t generate value for your customer or your bottom-line are the primary tasks of the Lean methodology. While getting rid of them completely is nearly impossible, implementing effective waste systems can help you be a more efficient continuous improvement leader.

There is one key element of every workplace that can benefit immensely from the implementation of lean principles: meetings. One of the best ways you can help your team to prevent the generation of unnecessary waste is to adopt a daily meeting routine that is time efficient and effective. The stand-up or ‘scrum’ meeting structure is an enhanced form of the typical roundup meeting that is an inevitable part of each team’s activities.

Unlike long, unproductive team meetings that can require hours of debate, note taking and follow-up, the daily stand up has a few distinguishable features that encourage teams to improve constantly. It is the perfect meeting tool to assist your teams to become more focused on continuous improvement each day.

First of all, it is called a stand up because it is held on foot. During the meeting, every member of your team must present answers to three short, easy questions:

  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What’s on the agenda for today?
  • What is blocking me from achieving my goals today?

Secondly, these short, snappy questions don’t require your team members to prepare long agendas or notes to combat long meetings. Instead, the continuous improvement meeting structure is designed is to boost information sharing between your team members, inspiring camaraderie and therefore improves collaboration between team members. With the ideal length of such a meeting being between 5 and 15 minutes depending on the size of the team, it is not a space to be taken up with gripes or excuses – this is a space to talk about what you’re doing and how you’re going to get it done.

The scrum style of meeting is a great way to keep everybody synchronised, but its format is unsuitable for in-depth analysis of your team’s activities. When it comes to discussing strategy or larger issues management, weekly WIP meeting should be set aside for those longer discussions.

Have any further ideas about how meetings can be improved? We’d love to hear them!

Implementing effective waste improvements

As a highly efficient lean manager in a waste conscious lean business, you will be aware of the most common forms of Waste. Once you have identified the sources of Waste, and how much it is costing your business, you should now turn your attention to the most cost-effective way to reduce different types of Waste disrupting your team and your cash flow.

After applying the DOWNTIME (Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Not Utilising Employees, Transport, Inventory, Motion, Excessive Processing) method of identifying Waste sources in your business, it’s time to come up with solutions to combat these costly issues in your business.


Defects in product can cause costly problems for any business. It can lead to valuable material been thrown out or reworked. One solution to combat defects would be to offer concession pricing to a customer made aware of slight defects or fire-sale pricing so that defective material can still be sold. An even better solution would be to utilise the 5 Whys  to get to the bottom of quality control issues that may be amended to control unreliable processing that causes defects in the first place.


Overproduction usually occurs from making something too soon, too much of, or faster than is needed. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? In reality, it can become a huge problem because it hides other elements of waste, such as undetected defects in runs of inventory and product damage. One way to clearly identify where overproduction happens and how to combat it is to utilise the Kansan system  to enable the pull of production through your processes.


Reducing waiting times may be one of the easier Waste issues to tackle, but it still involves planning and execution of processes to create the right environment for improvement. One easy way to reduce waiting times is to put in place clearer communication processes so changeovers between teams and workstations are minimised.

Not Utilising Employees

One of the most wasteful actions an organisation can undertake unwittingly is to box people into a specific role with particular tasks, effectively limiting how and where they are able to contribute. Instead of limiting your people, let them explore talents that aren’t specifically a part of their job description. Sometimes a solution to a problem or a more efficient way to complete a task can be found by asking the right person with the right set of skills.


Transport waste is any form of movement that adds no value to the product. Often resource heavy and time wasting, unintended transport waste can be costly and inefficient. To reduce the amount of transport time and resources needed, consider the current layout of your team’s workspaces. Could they be changed as per the principles of lean manufacturing? If yes, then actively create value streams and make that value flow at the pull of the customer. This will requires you to think more carefully about production lines and cells, ensuring that they contain all of the value adding processes rather than a functional layout.


Inventory waste is normally unnecessary stock that has accumulated in excess of the requirements to produce goods in time to supply demand. Think of every piece of excess stock as cash that isn’t in your pocket – the cost can quickly add up. Related to combating overproduction, dealing with inventory waste requires an attitude of making the business flow around the idea of Just in Time (JIT) production. Checking in with your Kanban system will allow you to see how fast stock is required, and where resources can be better utilised to help reduce wait times between product creation and shipping.


Excessive motion in your processes can give rise to a number of problems including lowered efficiency of your team and potential early breakdown of your machinery. To tackle motion waste, direct your team to utilise the 5S  method of identifying each step in their operation to complete a task and pinpoint ways their methods of working could be improved.

Excessive Processing

Overprocessing occurs when work is added to a task but does not improve the overall value or customer experience of a product. The tendency to overprocess usually comes from a workplace having unclear standards, resulting in many workers doing more than they need to do to get the job done well. One easy way to combat overprocessing is to implement the use of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in the form of written instructions and guidelines. If your team knows exactly what they are doing with each task, they won’t overreach on each individual task and will be able to accomplish more.

With any or waste solution you implement, it is a good idea to focus initially on quick wins – things you can do immediately that will reduce waste almost instantly. You might also want to consider quick fixes such as putting in place a temporary solution to a problem to give you time to design a more permanent answer. The main focus should always be on dealing with those problems which are most costly to your business because they will have the biggest impact on your profits.

Gemba walks

As a lean leader, you recognise that the vast majority of the value generated by your organisation is by the people with their hands on the product and their ears closest to your clients and customers. While leading through example and finding creative solutions to problems is part of your role as a leader, it is just as important for you to get out of your office and go to the gemba – the place where things are really happening in your workplace.

The translation of the term from the root Japanese word is “the real place.” It also is known as “the place where value is created.” The Gemba walk technique involves leaders or managers going to the physical place where work gets done and observing and identify possibilities for improvement. Only after the walk is complete and a period of reflection has occurred are changes implemented.

Gemba walks are normally informal, casual opportunities for leaders to get a sense of what’s really happening in the powerhouses of your organisation. Research shows that championing of ideas from the executive level is a key component of practicing continuous improvement. However, executives cannot fully support initiatives wholeheartedly if they don’t understand the problems and mechanics behind them.

The Gemba walk technique offers leaders a chance to observe the difference between what they assume is happening day-to-day, and what is actually happening. It also gives them a chance to interact with their team members while they are doing the job, as opposed to only getting updates in scheduled meetings.

While the Gemba walk is a powerful technique for getting to the source of work, it is important to remember a few key ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’t’s’ regarding a Gemba walk:


  • Focus on observation
  • Perform each walk with an open mind
  • Keep it loose – walk at different times of the day


  • Point out faults to team members while on a walk
  • Try to implement change on the spot before reflection
  • Discredit or disregard a team member’s input

The main idea behind Gemba walks is that team members on the front lines of any workplace are the ones most equipped to recognise ways to incorporate continuous improvement into their roles, since they’re the ones doing the work. The face-to-face time that comes from Gemba walks sends the message that leadership is interested in how these ideas for improvement can be integrated into the daily functioning of the workplace. By getting out of your office and talking to people on the front lines, you show your own dedication to rapid continuous improvement, which gives others the sense that they too can prioritise this work.

5 Whys

Originally a tool utilised by the car manufacturer Toyota, the 5 Whys system of questioning is now a popular practice in the world of lean development.

At its core, 5 Whys is an interactive thinking tool for identifying the root causes of problems. By using the 5 Whys, teams practicing continuous improvement are able to move beyond blaming one another for problems occurring and think beyond the specific context of a problem. Instead, the 5 Whys helps to identify a sustainable, coherent solution to resolve the issue.

In practice the 5 Whys is very simple, but can be more complicated in practice. Start with a problem statement, and then ask “why” until the root cause is revealed and the answers become absurd. Start by bringing your team together after an issue has arisen that needs an answer. Be prepared for intentional and unintentional bias in the answers you discuss here. Make sure the room doesn’t try to shy away from an uncomfortable truth, or try to reach an easy consensus. If there isn’t one definable problem, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to agree on which issue to focus on. This process in itself can be quite revealing regarding the mechanics and thinking patterns of your team. Once you have agreed on a single problem to focus on, continue along a line of questioning similar to the below:

Problem: The Sales Team isn’t meeting its monthly targets

Question 1: “Why is the Sales Team struggling to meet its targets?”

Answer 1: “There aren’t enough people following up leads.”

Question 2: “Why aren’t there enough people following up leads?”

Answer 2: “Because some of the Sales Team are also working on logistic issues in Operations.”

You get the idea – keep drilling down to new problem statements until you’ve asked “why” five or more times. Most of the time, large issues have many factors contributing to them. The last response in a long time of questioning get a little absurd, but it is worth pulling out answers from the team at each “why” point to highlight the complexity of the problem at hand.

At the end of this 5 Whys exercise, your team should have a good understanding of the problem and the factors contributing to it. As a team, discuss the resulting problem statements from each question. Odds are, you would have traced a path from the symptom of a much larger problem you need to address as a team.

It’s important to reemphasise that the purpose of the 5 Whys line of questioning isn’t to place blame. Rather, it is to reveal the root cause of why something unexpected or unpleasant has occurred while also uncovering small, incremental steps to ensure the issue doesn’t happen again.

Next blog we’ll be investigating another powerful lean leadership tool, Gemba walks .

Continuous Improvement Tools

Having the right continuous improvement tools and strategies in place is essential to the long-term success of any business. These tools can be anything that helps ensure the quality improvement process can move forward successfully. Over the next few blogs, we’ll be delving deep into some of the more well-known continuous improvement tools and how leaders can best use them to implement significant change in the workplace.

1) The Kanban Method – Visualise and Harness

The Kanban Method follows a set of principles and practices for managing and improving the flow of work. It is a non-disruptive method that promotes gradual improvements to an organisation’s processes and outcomes. If you follow these principles and practices, you will improve flow, reduce cycle time and increase value to your customer, with greater predictability – all elements which are crucial to any business today.

Kanban helps users to harness the power of visual information by using notes on a whiteboard to create an overall “picture” of your work under general headings of “To Do”, “DOING”, “DONE” and “BACKLOG”. Seeing how your work flows within your team’s process lets you not only communicate status but also gives a contextual understanding of the work being completed.

There are four foundational principles in Kanban:

1) Visualise the flow of work

By visually laying out the work, either on a physical board or an electronic Kanban Board, your team can then process steps that are currently used to deliver the work or services. Depending on the complexity of your process and type of work, your Kanban board can be very simple to very elaborate. Once you visualise your process, you can then visualise the current work that you and your team are doing in the form of different colour-coded notes for separate staff members or tasks.

2) Limit work in process

By limiting the number of tasks being completed at any one time, you encourage your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. By creating a focus on getting work in progress completed and marked done, the system is geared towards a “Just in Time (JIT)” approach, reducing various forms of Waste.

3) Focus on flow

A Kanban board’s core purpose is to manage and improve your team’s workflow. By setting up your Kanban board with 3 basic stages to begin with (To Do, Doing and Done) you will observe how quickly or stagnantly your team’s workflow of tasks move from one section of the board to the next. The power of the Kansan system lies in its ability to highlight bottlenecks and pinpoint areas for improvement.

4) Continuously improve

Remember, one of the primary goals of your Kanban board is to serve as an informational radiator, so make sure it is in place that is visible and used by all team members who are working on it. The Kansan will work as another member of your team, constantly evolving and developing around your team and the work they complete. In other words, it is a continuous improvement board. By editing and updating your board when necessary to suit the team or task, you are allowing the process to consistently improve to better support and assist your team to complete their individual and organisational goals.

Next blog we will look closer at another imperative continuous improvement tool, 5 Whys.

Effective Communication for Effective Coaching

Communication is our first act of interaction when meeting people. Communication builds and maintains friendships and is the glue that binds relationships together. Communication is essential for us to achieve what we want out of life. In a coaching or mentoring relationship, open and effective communication is a must. It is the inherent foundation upon which the whole relationship grows and develops.

Successful communication is a two-way process, sending as well as receiving. You must first present your ideas in a form others can understand and then listen to others to understand how your message is being received. This mutual understanding is necessary if the purpose of any communication is to be achieved.

In other words, effective communication is a process that involves 5 basic steps:

The speaker must:

  1. Identify a meaning they want to express
  2. Code that meaning into words and non-verbal cues

The listener must:

  1. Accurately receive, or hear, the words and non-verbal cues
  2. Decode the meaning of the words.
  3. Respond to the speaker in a way that indicates accurate understanding of the message

In coaching conversations it is critical that both parties are on the same wavelength and understand each other because we don’t all feel, think or speak the same way. People have different values, views, expectations, opinions and prejudices based on their past experiences, education levels, political viewpoints and cultural or economic backgrounds. When you send information it won’t necessarily be heard the way you intend. People hear what you say through filters and will interpret your message in a way that is meaningful to them and makes sense from their perspective.

Always be aware and sensitive to possible filters that will influence your individual. Plan the message you want to convey, ask questions that aid clarity and understanding and provide feedback for reinforcement. Feedback achieved through effective questioning helps you check the listener’s level of understanding. Feedback given and received is the catalyst for making appropriate adjustments in the communication process to ensure you achieve mutual understanding as you strive to identify and reach important goals with your individual.

To progressively strengthen the coaching relationship and to achieve the greatest value and meaningful communication from coaching sessions, coaches must listen attentively and use empathy to understand the other person’s message. As a coach, making the effort to understand your individual’s feelings and beliefs doesn’t mean that you have to accept or agree with his or her point of view. Undoubtedly, you have heard empathy expressed in the saying, “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes”. Through exercising empathy we show others that we understand and appreciate them. Empathy is the ability to look at a situation from another’s viewpoint and understand that person’s feelings and beliefs.

Check out LMA’s Above the Line Coaching and Mentoring course to explore these concepts in more detail and to further develop the coaching and mentoring relationship.