Barriers to Continuous Improvement : Why Your Team is Falling Short

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Obstacle #1: Change is a Difficult Thing to Facilitate

Lean Circle

Continuous improvement is a state all teams strive to achieve, but few actually realize. The status quo is too often acceptable, and many teams and organizations find it difficult to try new approaches or sustain prolonged bursts of productivity before eventually slipping back into mediocrity. The result is low output and low morale. As a manager, you need to find an effective way to shake things up and facilitate change.

Obstacle #2: Employees Don’t Feel Empowered

Change does not happen without effective retrospectives (review periods) that encourage team members to come together, their collective perspective, and to identify potential improvements for processes, operations, and innovations. This is the very key to continuous development. The only problem is running productive retrospectives and seeing the takeaways from those meetings actually acted on and realized isn’t always easy.

Unless a team can facilitate a culture of change and empower its employees to act on improvement ideas, then the team will struggle to reach a state of continuous improvement.

Making Change Part of Your Operating Process

One of the biggest reasons change doesn’t happen is that it is not considered part of the standard operations of the team. By making change part of the team’s operations, a team can facilitate a culture that encourages change. Here are two tips to get you going in the right direction:

  • Make time for change: Set aside a certain period of time in planning that is dedicated toward working on the top change opportunity identified each retrospective period. This can be anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of a team’s time depending on how aggressively the team is pursuing change and its capability to identify change opportunities. The key is to start off with smaller changes that are more manageable and taking on bigger ones until the team finds its sweet spot. By making the team aware of this time allocation, the team will see that change is expected and see it as part of the operating process.
  • Incentivize change: Teams should establish incentives or awards for team members who identify top change opportunities.  Doing so will encourage team members to get more involved in the identification process. Typically, rewards are more effective than punishments in helping drive a culture of change.

Happiness as a Barometer for Change

About a month ago, I completed Jeff Sutherland’s Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) Training. In that training, Jeff introduced the idea of the “Happiness Index”, a very simple way for teams to encourage more participation in retrospectives and get team members thinking about improvement opportunities.

What Jeff has learned from studying high-performing teams over several years is that highly productive teams are very happy relative to other teams. Consequently, asking team members about their happiness level and then asking what would make them happier actually inspires them to bring forth process improvement ideas that lead to improved productivity.

We are still in the early days of trying this out at OpenView Labs, but can already see it bringing new ideas to our retrospectives. The way we have implemented this idea is to ask every team member the following questions during team retrospectives:

  • How happy are you on a 1 to 10 scale, where 10 is the high?
  • What would make you happier?

What we have found is that answering these questions helps team members identify areas for improvement. The key is that this conversation needs to be focused around work, the environment, processes, and things that have an impact on productivity. The facilitator of the retrospective needs to ensure the conversation is focused by framing the question. This will help the team get the most out of its retrospective.

A team effort: Collective perspective far outweighs individual perspective when trying to identify process gaps, productivity improvement, and innovation opportunities. So a key to success is getting the full team involved in the change identification process.

Marketing Manager, Pricing Strategy