Barriers to Continuous Improvement

Barriers to Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement (CI) has a proven track record and is applicable in every business. Whether it is a manufacturing or a service industry, whether it is a giant corporation or a small retail outlet there is always a room for improvement.

Continuous Improvement (CI) is something of an umbrella term and may encompass a variety of disciplines and methodologies. Despite all the different terms, techniques and methods available, there are commonalities between these different approaches - they all seek to continuously improve business processes in order to enhance business results. CI requires an organization to have a high level of confidence in itself & it also requires commitment from top to bottom. To achieve the benefits of a CI process, an organization must take deliberate action as simply accepting change when it happens to occur is not enough. If this doesn’t happen an organization might undergo a phase of deterioration because if the processes are left unattended it may invariably get worse all by themselves. And therein lies the problem.

Some of the largest and most powerful corporate names of the past few decades no longer exist, or exist as a shadow of their former glory and this is exactly what happens if processes are left unattended or if there is no confidence or commitment to CI. So applying CI (on your own or through a professional/ experienced consultant) is not an option, it is the need of an hour, it is the requirement of business survival as the economies/ markets are becoming dynamic, competition is increasing, customers are becoming more demanding, pressure on prices are increasing, etc. Organizations will have to accept that CI is a long-term strategy to improve your business in terms of customer value & satisfaction, quality, productivity, speed to market, flexibility & reduced cost. In today’s economic climate, many businesses are looking at short-term strategies just to survive and therefore suffer. But it has also been observed that organizations are their own worst enemies when it comes to process improvement.  In an article for the Wall Street Journal, for instance, Dr. Satya Chakravorty, a professor of operations management at Kennesaw State University, claimed that nearly 60% of all corporate Six Sigma initiatives fail to yield the desired results, comparing process improvement to weight loss programs that “start off well […] but all too often fail to have a lasting impact as participants gradually lose motivation and fall back into old habits.”

So here are few common barriers to this phenomena:

# 1: Top Management Commitment

# 2: No clear roles & responsibilities

# 3: Fail to engage everyone

# 4: CI is considered as a project (time bound activity just like ISO certification)

# 5: Lack of training (needed skills & knowledge)

# 6:  Resistance to change (Personality, past experience, etc.)

# 7: Cultural Hurdles (Blame, Mistrust, Hierarchical dividing lines, etc)

# 8: “We have done this” syndrome

# 9: Past failures (Real & Imagined)

# 10: People problems (failure of leadership)


1.    Where are you right now? (Current state analysis)

2.    Where do you want to be? (Future state)

3.    When do you want to be there?

4.    How can you reach there? (Improvement roadmap is needed)

5.    How can you tell if you are doing progress?

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