The answer to what’s next in continuous improvement

Anybody who’s been in the continuous improvement world for any amount of time has encountered the question of what is next after Lean, Six Sigma, PDCA, TQM, TPS, or any other number of methodologies.  It is high time we put this question to rest.

This question, while well intended, is ridiculous.  There seems to be some belief that there is some miracle method waiting to be discovered, but in reality, all of these methods are simply different means to the same end.  


"Excellence is achieved by the mastery of fundamentals"

-Vince Lombardi

Each method is a tool in the toolbox of the continuous improvement practitioner.  Each tool has a best fit for a specific application, time, and company.  Each was built to try to model the magic that was created when continuous improvement worked really well in a specific application, at a specific time, and at a specific company.  
Each was designed to give us a road-map to chase perfection.

Each will fail us if we ignore the fundamentals of what continuous improvement is and what it is not.

Continuous improvement is the infinite pursuit of perfection.  It is not and should never be about some small incremental gains.  It is not some rigid methodology that we slog through.  This is usually where the question of "what’s next" comes from.  

Some poor sap is slogging through a rigid waterfall alternative of the PDCA architecture getting small incremental gains when he says, “there must be something better than this!”  The good news for this poor sap is that there is.  


"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence"

-Vince Lombardi

The key is to understand and MASTER the fundamentals of continuous improvement.  This is the baseline for creating your own methodology that fits your specific company, at your specific time, and for your specific application.  Use this as your base and build upon it…continuously improve YOUR method.

The fundamentals of continuous improvement:
•    Be better every day: This is literally the definition of continuous improvement.  Chase the unattainable perfection every day.  Be better than we were yesterday.  If we do this then way may realize excellence!
•    Be adaptable: Do not get stuck in one specific methodology.  Do not ignore discoveries in another methodology simply because it wasn’t the methodology you learned.  All of the greatest methodologies built upon one anther from Taylor to Ohno and beyond.  Mirror from what the greats did and borrow or build upon their frameworks.
•    Address root causes: Take the time to understand the root cause to a problem and improve it as quickly as possible.  Compare the results and repeat until you’ve reached perfection.  That is to say NEVER STOP because you’ll never reach perfection.  
•    Constantly seek breakthroughs: If we look at business in the most basic terms we’ll discover that it about providing gains or eliminating pains for a customer.  If you find a pain in your business or your process then there is a good chance it is causing pain for another business.  Sell the solution.  If continuous improvement isn’t driving innovation in your organization then you are missing this fundamental.
•    Sustain results: It is not enough to complete a project and walk away.  It is also not enough to leave the improvement where it is.  The true result of a continuous improvement project is an understanding of how to continuously improve.  Sustaining results means constantly seeking perfection!
•    Focus on the three pillars: All of the other fundamentals of continuous improvement apply to organizations or individuals.  This last fundamental applies to business.  You MUST focus on all three pillars: ownership, employees, and customers.  A gain for one at the expense of another is not an improvement…it is akin to shifting waste.  The best improvements will be a gain creator or pain eliminator for each pillar.  At the very least improve the situation of one pillar without taking from another.

What’s next in continuous improvement is what it has always been.  It is to do as the greats have done.  It is to build upon the fundamentals of continuous improvement in the never-ending pursuit of perfection.

I would love to speak with you about how continuous improvement could benefit the owners, employees, and customers in your company.  Send me an e-mail at or visit to connect.