Governing an Organization’s Continuous Improvement Maturity Level

Setting projects and the organization's improvement efforts up for success now and into the future.

Understanding An Organization's Project Governance System and Its Role in Maturing the Use of Continuous Improvement

What does a governance system do?

In the first blog post, we reviewed the basic structure of a governance system and highlighted a few common activities. This next post will examine how a governance system can execute strategy effectively by assessing organizational maturity and change readiness.

In evaluating an organization’s overall improvement journey, the members of a governance system are trying to evaluate how well Lean Six Sigma has been deployed and if the organization is ready to take the next steps for further deployment.

This evaluation is distilled into two discrete assessments:

1) Organizational maturity and

2) Organizational readiness.

Assessing organizational maturity helps to determine if the organization is trending toward successful transformation. In comparison, assessing organizational readiness evaluates if the organization’s culture and operations are ready to support the transformation journey.

Continuous Improvement Maturity Models and Levels

Most models describe a spectrum of maturity ranging from an early journey (for those organizations just getting started) to best-in-class (for those mature organizations who are seen as role models). Evaluating an organization’s maturity is often more qualitative than quantitative. Most models ask organizations to describe where they are in their journey, looking for significant indicators and activities (known as “markers”) that suggest the organization is performing at a certain level. These evaluations require diverse input from organization members to adequately evaluate if the activities are commonplace (a fully deployed standard) or if the activities are random phenomena. Who participates in the evaluation and the frequency at which the assessment occurs are critical to the success of the organization’s improvement journey. 

The maturity model assessment’s primary outcome is clearly defining the next steps on the organization’s journey to excellence. As such, assessing an organization’s maturity often occurs ahead of the development of an organization’s strategic plan. Planning to evaluate an organization’s maturity before strategic planning allows the assessment’s findings to be included in the strategic plan. This helps strengthen the ties between the strategic objectives and the systematic processes that will enable the organization to achieve its goals and objectives.

Below we provide an example of a maturity model that an organization may use to determine its current levels for deploying Lean Six Sigma. This example is sourced directly from the ASQ Master Black Belt Handbook. However, multiple models exist, and an organization should select the model that best matches its journey. Another important consideration in using any maturity model is that most organizations aren’t going to improve in a straight line. In other words, organizational activities aren’t likely to place an organization squarely at one performance level; an organization’s maturity is more likely to be scattered across different maturity levels.

Lean Six Sigma Maturity Model

Organizational Readiness

Unfortunately, too many organization’s fail to evaluate readiness. Instead, these organizations haphazardly deploy continuous improvement, often experiencing resistance, false starts, and other complications. These barriers add to the complexity of deploying continuous improvement and when not addressed can cause an organization’s improvement system to collapse.
Based on the findings from the maturity assessment, leaders will have the necessary information for guiding next steps in the organization’s improvement journey. Whether it is to further deploy and sophisticate the organization’s use of continuous improvement. Or, to deploy tactics aimed at improving the organization’s readiness.

Ultimately what governance is trying to determine when assessing organizational maturity is twofold:
1). Does the organization’s culture embrace continuous improvement?
2). Is the organization ready, prepared to take the next steps in its continuous improvement journey?

Regularly evaluating where an organization is maturity-wise, can be a helpful way for measuring progress of the organization’s improvement program. But keep in mind, the evaluation isn’t just about celebrating how far you have come as an organization in your use of continuous improvement. Instead, the assessment is about focusing on continuously improving how your organization continuously improves.

Importance of culture

As mentioned in the above section, periodically reviewing the organization’s mature use of continuous improvement is an essential step when seeking to scale up an improvement program. In most cases, the assessment helps to determine whether the necessary leadership, infrastructure, technology, and processes are in place for expanding the reach of the improvement program. As the program expands to involve more complex projects in previously unreachable (or unimproved) areas and as project successes are amassed, the organization’s culture we begin to see the value of continuous improvement – motivating them to get involved, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines.

As you have probably heard, a core tenet of continuous improvement is that the people who do the work should improve the work.  Such a vision takes time and effort. However, as more individuals embrace continuous improvement, the more durable the organization’s improvement culture becomes.

A lot can be said about the challenges one will face when trying to shape culture. It is not going to be an easy task to undo old ways, rewiring years of ingrained thinking. A timeline can’t necessarily be developed with any accuracy when trying to achieve such a task. But rest assured, once the culture embraces continuous improvement, it is not something that will ever easily be undone.

Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement

As suggested above, building a culture of continuous improvement is not for the faint of heart. Shaping culture is something that is going to take time and consistency, among other things. Regularly developing people, role modeling the desired behaviors, and reinforcing the importance of continuous improvement have to be the top focus of governance until the new ways of thinking and doing can take root.

In the list below, we have provided three tactics that may be helpful in shaping your organization’s culture in a way that embraces continuous improvement:

Leaders need to shape a clear vision and share it often. Clearly explain the reasons that the organization is on an improvement journey. Make it an ongoing conversation about where the organization wants to go and invite feedback from others on how to get there.

Create open access to learning the basics of continuous improvement. Identify the early adopters and form strong partnerships with them. Provide the early adopters with the hands-on project experience they need to grow in their understanding of continuous improvement.

Share project results and promote successes and lessons learned internally. Host internal site visits or tours of areas that are actively using continuous improvement. Let the people who are doing the work tell their story of how they are getting things done.

Coming Next...

As we covered in this blog post, a governance system helps organizations effectively execute strategy by assessing organizational maturity and change readiness. In our final post, we will discuss the importance of a governance system’s role in resource planning. Stay tuned!

Learn More About Governance and Sponsoring Projects

Introduction to Project Sponsor Training, continuous improvement certifications

Suggesting and approving project requests is a critical step in ensuring an organization is working on the right change efforts. This topic is a core concept of leading and sponsoring change. To learn more about sponsoring projects, please visit our Introduction to Project Sponsorship Certification Course.

The project sponsor plays a critical role in the success of an organization’s change initiatives. To get the total value out of its change initiatives, the organization must invest in leadership the skills they will need to help govern project activities. Effective project sponsorship helps ensure that the organization is working on the right projects and that the project teams have adequate support.

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