Continuous Improvement Framework

How to Develop Continuous Improvement Capabilities throughout your Organisation

Organisations that are serious about developing and sustaining their Continuous Improvement (CI) capabilities will use a defined set of training and mentoring processes.  The aim of these systems is to ensure that everyone in the company can contribute effectively to improving the organisation’s processes and customer experience.  Over the last few years there are two main approaches that have proved successful: Lean and Six-Sigma or a combination of the two.  In this article, Alex Gibbs looks at a framework for developing CI capabilities throughout a business.

Six Sigma

The Six Sigma approach to building capability is widely recognised with its various “Belt Levels” from Yellow, Green, Black through to the Master Black Belt.  By way of explanation, this is achieved through a combination of training, experience, and demonstration.  This allows a candidate to apply their knowledge of 6-Sigma to business problems.   One of the key tenants of the belt system is that progression through the belts requires that the superior levels train and mentor the new entrants at the next level down.   The thinking being that the learning and knowledge is brought to a deeper level though teaching and coaching.


Our view at Lean Teams is that the same approach is more applicable to organisations that deploy and apply Lean as their main improvement system.  Our experience is that Lean is generally more applicable to many people’s job roles than a pure 6-Sigma approach.  The Six Sigma approach is the way to go if the improvements that the business needs require numerical data analysis and experimentation. 

However, one of the potential drawbacks is that the specialised training and knowledge means improvement and analysis becomes the preserve of specialists and something that is not practiced by everyone. 

Lean Six Sigma Image

The Lean training and mentoring key areas are shown below.   As with many things we learn, we move from awareness to being able to put what we have leaned into practice to then being able to lead and train others to do the same.

Continuous Improvement Framework

Lean Foundation

Our view is that everyone in the organisation should be trained and qualified at a Foundation Level in CI techniques.   As a result, this creates the environment where Lean and CI are accepted, and the people know it for what it really is.   Not going for 100% runs the risk of creating some mystery about Lean and CI.  This, in turn, can create organisational resistance to improvement. 

The Lean training and mentoring key areas are shown below.   As with many things we learn, we move from awareness to being able to put what we have leaned into practice to then being able to lead and train others to do the same.

To be certified at Foundation Level, it is not sufficient for the individual to just attend the training.   Furthermore, they must show that they can put the Lean approach into practice in some element of their own or their team’s standard work.   A few people will be able to do this based on the training alone.  But most will benefit from coaching and mentoring to achieve a meaningful and impactful improvement. 

This “sign-off” that they have completed their improvement is generally done by Lean Champions or Practitioners working towards their Champion qualification.  The main aim at this level is to equip the organisation with skills to see and solve problems within their own work area.   Our Lean Teams Essentials training can build this capability in any company.

It’s important for each of the individuals being certified that their achievement at Foundation level (and other levels) is recognised.  In our experience, we recommend that a ceremony and recognition by top management must be given to the presentation of their improvement project and the award of their certificate. 

Lean Practitioner

First of all, Lean Practitioner level training is a big step up from the Foundation.  Typically, all leaders and potential leaders in the organisation should undergo this training.   The 10% level is very much baseline target, in mature business more than 15% of the total workforce would be trained to this level.  

Due to the training (at least a week’s residential training is required) and mentoring time required from Lean Champions and Masters, it may take a few years to reach this level.  Practitioner training focuses on the behaviours and the method necessary to achieve the Lean transformation.  This is why there is a strong emphasis on the performance management aspects associated with team leadership such as Visual and Daily Management.

Following on from this training, the certification is subject to successfully delivering an improvement project that contributes to the organisation’s lean transformation.  Typical assignments include, implementing a team communication cell, preparing for, and running a Kaizen Event to achieve a breakthrough in process performance or developing a strategy deployment plan (Hoshin).    

Lean Champion

The Champion level is a full-time appointment for organisations starting on their transformation journey.  As companies become more mature, Lean Champion becomes a certification level to which people can aspire.  The training approach is less formalised and takes the form of master classes, actual practice over a period of a couple of years whilst being coached by Lean Masters. 

Lean Master

Lean Masters are typically certified based on their experience as Lean Champions or their appointment to manage the deployment of lean in multiple business units or sites.    A key part of their role is to manage the capability building.  For this an employee data system is needed to track and measure the progress against agreed targets.

The challenge for many organisations is how to build all these capabilities quickly.  Our view is that to accomplish the transformation, Lean CI capabilities need be practiced by everyone.   To accelerate this learning, external coaches and experts all have a role to play.    At the start of the journey, we at Lean Teams often act in the Champion and Master roles whilst the organisation builds the internal capabilities necessary to sustain the transformation.  In this capacity we develop training and mentoring systems and can advise on the focus of the transformation.    

Once such a programme has started, the results will continue to build.  Our experience in organisations that start with the foundation Lean Essentials programme is that the improvement projects yield immediate savings.  As a result, the performance improvements are worth several times the time invested by the organisation.

If you need help selecting which Lean programme you or your team should start with, contact us for a free consultation.

You may also be interested in reading about What to look for in a Lean Consultant or Coach and Mentoring for Success : 5 Benefits of Having a Good Mentor.  All our blogs are available to read here.  Please connect with us on Linkedin and Twitter.

Empowering your People to Think and Work Smarter

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *