Continuous Improvement training: a waste of time and money?

Sven Legler
Sven Legler Published at

Ah, training. The magic bullet that makes everybody work better and guarantees more profitable process. Box ticked. Obligation fulfilled. Benefits in the bag.

In an ideal world, maybe. In reality, the truth is often very different. Especially when it comes to Continuous Improvement training.

Continuous Improvement [CI] is a hands-on discipline. Training is worthless without practical application. Simply sending employees on a CI course in the belief it will eventually lead to the savings rolling in is, in my view, still one of the biggest misconceptions in business. And a key reason why many projects or entire initiatives fail.

Practice makes perfect

Knowing how to play the piano doesn’t necessarily make you a good pianist. No matter how well you understand the principles of notes, scales, consonance, dissonance and all the rest, it’s effectively meaningless unless you put it into practice.  Application is everything.

CI is a very similar story. Just knowing the methodology and concepts doesn’t change anything. You only get results by applying it all in practice.

Time is money

Taking time out for training places a huge squeeze on workload. And preparing a CI project in which the learnings from that training are implemented is very time consuming. Understanding the current situation, gathering meaningful data and challenging the existing way of doing things doesn’t just happen while you sleep.

There simply aren’t enough hours in the working week. Something has to give. That something, more often than not, is the very project the CI training was intended to support. While the newly trained employee catches up on the work they missed during training, the project gets delayed, aborted or fails to even start.

With no project through which to reap the training benefits, all that time and money spent on CI training is wasted. Plus the anticipated savings from the CI project never materialise, because the issue in question doesn’t get solved. Total losses might run to hundreds of thousands of euros/dollars/pounds, or whatever currency applies.

Management needs to set priorities

Avoiding this whole sorry scenario is a management responsibility. It shouldn’t be left to the CI-trained employee to figure out how and when to put their training into practice. It’s up to management to ensure they have ample opportunity to do so.

Being tasked with leading a CI project isn’t typically a full-time job. Yet although this adds significantly to an employee’s workload, little consideration is usually given to how many hours per week they need to dedicate to it. And because that person will primarily be driven by the task he or she is measured on, unrelated to the CI mission, the project in question will be their lowest priority. Even though it may be the highest one where management is concerned.

Leaving the employee to solve the time-management challenge therefore risks the CI project’s very existence. It’s therefore up to management to make a realistic assessment of the demands on the employee’s time and reallocate their commitments as necessary.

Guidance leads to success

Management also needs to support the CI efforts by getting involved. Constantly reminding that the issue needs to be solved and providing guidance through the methodology, as well as contributing time to working on the project and ensuring fast delivery. Through instilling structure, rhythm and know-how, with continual reviews, management can ensure that the good intentions when starting a project don’t wither during execution.

Appropriate projects

Strangely enough, CI projects are often selected without having the necessary transparency to ensure they’re appropriate. Gains will only be made if the project is properly defined and everyone involved has the same view and expectations. Is there common agreement on how much can be saved, on whether addressing this issue also address a key strategic objective, and on which key resources are required and whether are these available?

Failure to consider all these aspects before selecting a CI project is yet another recipe for throwing money down the drain.

Learning on the job

The best way to ensure CI training isn’t a waste of time and money is to combine it with working through a real project. Learning on the job, as is done in Six Sigma training. This ensures the essential practical knowledge is gained, in context, and the project actually gets done. Without the distractions of other tasks.

This is what R&G delivers. We’ve already helped some 2,500 participants do this through numerous training courses. Enabling them to execute their first CI projects and leaving them with the practical know-how to do more. In 90%+ of cases, our training forms part of an overall Operational Excellence programme in which R&G is fully involved in delivering results together with trainees.

Want to know more about how R&G can get CI working in your organisation? Contact us:

Sven Legler is Senior Business Process Excellence Consultant for R&G Global Consultants in Germany.


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