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Continuous Improvement Development Guide

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Continuous Improvement Development Guide (TM)

VOLUME I: Introduction and Exploration

Basic Volume Information

How to Use the Program

One of the challenges of making a step-by-step guide is that the needs of every organization are different. Plus they consist of many people. Different people will move through sections at their own pace.

So while this guide is designed to be done in a linear fashion, we recognize that you may have several teams charting their own course at their own pace through the sections. As we mentioned earlier, the program is designed to account for this variation. The key is to make sure that each organization has a plan for how they move through the sections and that they meet the targets that they set for themselves. This is especially important as infrastructure is developed. It can be disruptive to have organizations operating at markedly different levels of performance.

Program Scope

Our step-by-step guide is intended to be used by entire organizations. It will hamstring your efforts at creating a continuous improvement culture if there is limited participation. For example, it will be difficult to create flow on the shop floor if production planning and sales & marketing are not on board. Likewise, policy deployment depends upon cooperation between senior leaders. In the complex business environment, few processes do not cross functional boundaries. If some executives are unwilling to participate in developing the business management system, it will be difficult to build an effective infrastructure.

That said, partial participation is better than no participation. The guide will just require some careful thought and modification to account for the challenges of having competing management styles within the same company.

The Program Leader

This program will work best if a single individual is assigned to manage it for your company. He or she will act as the program guide and manage the progression of the various organizations. If your company has a specified person in charge of continuous improvement, the choice is easy. If not, a single senior manager or executive should be assigned this responsibility. That person also needs the authority to back up their plan. This is exceptionally important. Some of sections, especially the development gates, must be done before subsequent sections can be completed effectively. If the program leader cannot direct the team to hit a target on time, the already monumentally difficult task to build the business management system becomes that much harder.

In general, the sections are written to the program leader with the assumption that he or she will make sure that the appropriate people complete the requirements of the section. For example, the section may be a development gate in which a manager is required to set up a pilot daily management program. It is up to the program leader to identify the manager who will complete the section and help coach her on the use of the practical guide.


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Detailed Volume Information

Who This Program Helps

Industry Applicability

There is a common perception that Lean is just for manufacturing. Over the years though, Lean principles have evolved and have migrated into the office and the variety of other industries. This program, similarly, is applicable to the following industries and functions

  • Manufacturing
  • Lean Office/Administration
  • Lean Service
  • Lean Healthcare
  • Lean Government
  • Lean Education

Business Size

The information contained in this program is applicable or any size company. Our target audience, however, is small to mid-sized businesses. They tend to have less internal expertise than large companies, and are less likely to have their own training materials. (Note: We define small businesses as those with under a hundred employees and mid-sized companies as those with 100-1000 employees.)

Smaller companies also have the advantage of being more flexible, less bureaucratic, and can roll out changes with less cost.

The People We Help

Writing a program like this takes a delicate balance. For it to be effective it has to be adopted by a variety of people. We attempt to weigh the needs of each group so the guide does not favor one over the other.

  • Frontline Employees: These people are the engine that drives a company’s success. They do the day-to-day work that keeps the company going. We focus on job satisfaction to get this group engaged.
  • Frontline Professionals: This group is similar to frontline employees, but has some specialization and likely more training. Engineers, marketers, and accountants fall into this group. They do a mix of day-to-day work, but also handle many recurring projects that support the organization. The structure our guide provides and the emphasis on teaching people to solve problems benefits this group.
  • Frontline Leaders: This group consists of leads, supervisors, and floaters. They often are hands-on, working leaders, and frequently rose up through the ranks of the group they are in charge of. They typically have well-defined responsibilities and are limited in the decisions they are allowed to make. They seldom have budgetary authority. They are also among the hardest working employees in the company, and never slow down. Our guide helps create the management systems that make routine leadership activities easier.
  • Managers: This group contains the tactical leaders for the company. They decide how the company will implement its strategy. They also have budgetary responsibility. We build management structures so this group can focus on improvement.
  • Executives: These are the strategic leaders for the company. They chart the direction the company will go. Our guide does two main things for executives. First, it clarifies their intent through PD so the company is aligned. Second, it opens up options. With a higher performing team, both the range of what they take on and the size of the targets they can achieve are expanded.
  • Private Investors: These are the financial backers of the company. Because they are investing directly, they tend to be more vested in the company. Private investors are among the biggest beneficiaries of a business management system. They tend to have more patience than other investors and are more willing to trade current profit for bigger profit later.
  • Stockholders: Some stockholders have a personal commitment to the company, but many see it as a series of 3 or 4 letters and a set of financials. They fuel publicly traded companies, but are also demanding. They want immediate returns, and are often impatient about long-term investment. This is a tricky group to support, as they often think quarterly. Our step-by-step guide is intended to spread the costs of development while yielding steady improvement.
  • Vendors/Suppliers: Suppliers and their customers (your company) exist in a state of coopetition. They must work together effectively to create value, but they are also competing for their share of the profit pie. How you split the pie is up to you. What we do, though is try to make the pie bigger and help you limit the waste in the exchange so there is more to split.
  • Customers: Customers fund the company. The more value we help you provide to them, the more funds they are willing to provide to you. A customer focus is embedded in everything we do.

Where Your Company Is on Its Lean Journey

We know that our customers are at different stages of sophistication in their continuous improvement efforts. The system is designed to help you regardless of where you are.

  • Just Starting: This is the most applicable use of our guide. It walks you through the steps to go from zero Lean experience to world class performance. Granted, it will take several years to get there, but this guide charts the course.
  • Already on Your Journey: We realize that you may already have started out on your program. We provide ample information about each step so you can determine if you already have it covered, or if you need to add or rebuild that capability.
  • Not Building a Program: Some companies don’t want to build a complete business management system, but still want some of the pieces of what it includes. No problem. While we think this limits your full potential we still want to help. Our steps are designed to be semi-independent. Some build on each other, but many are great for rolling out a single capability.

Intended Audience of Sections

Writing a guide such as this is complicated because an organization is not homogenous. The sequencing of the sections is from the perspective of when the material is first introduced to the organization. Bear in mind that we do not intend for each section to be taught to the entire organization as you move through the guide.

For example, we do not intend for you to teach Pareto charts to your whole team at once. We recommend teaching this to managers and frontline professionals who in turn can teach your frontline team members as the need for the tool arises. The goal of this guide is to create organizational competence.

Lean vs. Continuous Improvement

In the development of this program, we had to make a decision about the nomenclature we use. If we take a purist approach, continuous improvement is an umbrella term that covers all of the different methodologies. Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, JIT, quality circles, etc. all fall under this umbrella.

However, while we recognize the distinction, for a variety of reasons (readability, brevity, matching what our customers are searching for, search engine issues, etc.), we often use the terms of Lean and continuous improvement somewhat interchangeably.

Program Selection Risk

We know that there is a tremendous amount of risk associated with choosing a program such as ours. We try to mitigate this for you in three ways.

  1. We give you loads of free content so you can become familiar with us. There should be no surprises when you start buying our materials.
  2. You can start with a very low investment. Buy our lesson plans one of the time until you’re ready to commit. If you choose to go down a different path, you’ll have invested very little time and money in our program.
  3. We’ve got a money back guarantee.

Program Organization

Our program is organized to make it easy to use in a variety of applications. We have designed it to be flexible enough to use as a step-by-step guide, or to be an à la carte menu that you can choose just the lessons you want.


As mentioned earlier, the program is divided into six volumes that correspond to the phases you will go through as you transition from deciding to create a continuous improvement culture on through world-class performance.

These volumes are intended to be done in order. Because of the complexity of an organization and the different paces people may work, you may find some overlap in what you work on. Basically this means that some groups may move ahead of others or that the program leader will do some sections early because of a specific need or scheduling requirement.


Each volume is broken into a series of sections. The sections will generally be one of four varieties.

  • Knowledge Building: This type of section puts you into a receive mode. It is comparable to reading a book or watching a video to gain knowledge.
  • Lesson Plan: This type of section increases your level of participation and requires you to do something to put the skill to use. Lesson plans typically contain generalized knowledge that you can apply in a variety of situations.
  • Development Gate: This type of section requires you to implement a piece of infrastructure to support your business management system. It can be something as simple as creating a prototype of a 5S supply station or as complicated as creating a policy deployment matrix. A common failing of Lean implementation is that companies try to apply principles and use tools without the supporting structure in place. Development gates are designed to prevent this problem.
  • Waypoint: This type of step is intended to have you take a brief pause to look at what you learned, how you should be applying it, how things should be going, and what to expect in the near future. In short, it is an introspective look at your progress.
  • LTS Modules: Our Lean Training System complements the lessons of our Nuts & Bolts Guide. We have integrated the modules of this system into the flow of our practical guide.

Note that some topics are a bit too big to cover in a single section. In these cases, we may break the information into a series of sections. For example, you may see a PDCA overview, and then “Plan”, “Do”, “Check”, and “Act”, each with a section of its own. This helps keep a steady, manageable flow of information.

Because this program is continuously evolving, the sections are designed to be self-contained. This allows us to add new sections as required and allows you to shuffle their sequence to meet your specific needs. The sections do not contain any numbers. You can find our recommended sequence in the tables on the volume pages. You can also advance forward and back through the navigation links on the section pages.

Program Costs

The cost of this program depends heavily on your team’s capabilities and on your level of commitment. The truth is that purchasing the materials we offer is likely to be the least expensive part of your transformation. Your largest investment will be in the time you’ll have to spend to learn and implement the concepts we teach.

The actual cost of our program, however, has three tiers to it.

  • Guests: We offer a wide range of materials on our website. If you have a serious budget constraint, this provides you a good opportunity to create some financial flexibility.
  • Registered Users: For those of you that want to connect with us and open an ongoing dialogue, we offer even more great free content. This comes in return for permission to contact you on occasion about our new content and other updates.
  • Premium Content: For those of you who are serious about improvement, though, we offer a line of premium content. This includes multimedia, training materials, and detailed instructions for the sections. Our premium content can be purchased for individual use or with corporate licenses that allow you to use it throughout your organization (some restrictions apply). We understand that the long rollout is a potential barrier to selecting us. Our pricing reflects this. Once the entire guide is complete, expect prices to rise along with its value.

When purchasing our materials, you have several options. You can buy our Lean Training System materials independent of the step-by-step guide. These are the modules that are part of many of our study sections. You can also buy materials by section or in bundles by volume. In addition, you can also choose individual study packs if you are learning on your own, or corporate licenses for the materials if you are guiding your organization.

Program Materials and Content

Within each section, at a minimum you will find an overview and a section guide. The overview covers a summary of the topic, why it is important to your progression, and why it should be completed in the order we recommend.

The section guide contains the instructions on how to complete the section requirements, who the intended audience is, and the content and training materials that are needed to complete the section.


In order to make the program more usable, many the materials are available in audio format.

  • Drive Time Audio: This section specific presentation is intended to prepare you for a workday assignment (morning) to cover some of the things they may have encountered while completing the section requirements (evening).
  • Terms: We have an extensive continuous improvement resource. The terms included in it are great supplementary materials for the sections of our practical guide. To make it easy for you and the teams you will be training, we also offer many of the terms on MP3s.
  • Articles: This practical guide is closely integrated with our Gotta Go Lean blog. Many of those blog articles are also available in audio format.
  • Podcasts: The lessons from our podcasts are also highly applicable to the sections in our practical guide.
  • Videos: We offer a variety of videos to support the training. Some come from DVDs in our Lean Training System. Others are recorded webinars. Some are video shorts done elsewhere on our site. And some are created especially for our practical guide.


Because two brains are better than one and 200 brains are better than two, we want your input and feedback. In addition, it can be extremely helpful to learn how other people in the same boat that you are in are faring. You’ll find numerous polls throughout the sections of this guide.


The feedback we receive in the comments section help us improve existing sections and avoid mistakes in new ones. It also helps you learn from your counterparts at different organizations. And of course, it lets you open a discussion about a problem you may be experiencing that somebody can help you with. By sharing your experiences, everyone benefits.


This guide is not a passive learning experience. You will be asked to do a variety of things along the way. You may be given a simple homework assignment to complete, or be walked through the practical application of a lesson. There may be hands-on exercises that you can use to reinforce lessons for trainees. And finally, especially in the development gates, you will be asked to do tasks to build your business management system.

Online Resources

Prior to the development of this practical guide, Velaction posted a wide range of resources to its website. These resources, however, were posted in the manner similar to most websites. There is a general theme to the materials, but the actual content is not linked together. The topics from one day to the next had no continuity.

This practical guide provides us with an opportunity to add some structure to the thousand or so pages we have on our website. It also helps us greatly accelerate the completion of this project. While it is still a monumental task, thousands of hours invested in creating our current content will not go to waste.

This guide also gives us a blueprint as we continue to create more content. Those of you subscribed to our Gotta Go Lean blog or social media feeds should see a more clear progression from one topic to the next.

The Lean Training System

This practical guide is closely integrated with our Lean Training System. In fact, the reason it exists is because of the feedback of our customers who have purchased our training modules. One of the most common questions we receive is about the order in which the modules should be taught. The practical guide is our attempt to answer that question.

But the guide will go further than just sequencing the modules. Many topics are not large enough to justify a full module and hence would not be covered by our Lean Training System. They do, however, fit nicely into the sections of our practical guide.

Release Plan

This project is a monumental undertaking. There are hundreds of sections to be added to the six volumes. It makes no sense to batch this material and wait to release it until everything is complete. Instead, we will be rolling out each section as it is developed.

In our early phase of development, everything is in flux. This means you have an opportunity to help chart our direction. Let us know about any changes you’d like to see. The earlier you let us know, the more likely we are to use your ideas.

Staged Rollout

  • Initial Rollout: Our first pass will be to create the basic framework, establish formats, and post our existing materials. (Expected timeline 6-12 months from Jan 2013.)
  • Key Topic Rollout: On our second pass through the volumes, we will post the key sections that are most important to your business system development. (Expected timeline 12 months from completion of Initial Rollout.)
  • Full Rollout: Our final pass will round out the remaining sections we have in our plan. (Expected timeline 12-24 months from completion of Key Topic Rollout.)
  • Ongoing Upgrades: We fully expect this guide to continue growing over time. We will add new sections and revise existing materials as needed.


The Components of our Lean Training System and this step-by-step guide come in two basic flavors of licenses. Individual licenses allow you to keep a single copy of the materials on a single computer. Corporate licenses allow you to share the information on your network within your own organization. The license is for a single reporting unit, usually identifiable by having its own president. Corporate licenses are limited to organizations of 20,000 people or fewer. Extended licenses for larger organizations are available upon request. (Email us at Info@Velaction.com for more information.)

Support Options

Modern technology has changed the nature and value of hiring consultants. Literally hundreds and even thousands of websites giving you the information you need are just a few clicks of the search engine away. Social media and a variety of forums give you access to near instantaneous help from around the world. And to top it off, with the easy access to corporate research on the Internet, it is much easier to find out what your competition is doing.

Combine that with the fact that the coming-of-age of Lean and other continuous improvement methodologies means that there is a wealth of talent available in the job market at any given time, and it is no surprise that more companies than ever try to navigate their Lean journey on their own.

In fact, this need is one of the reasons why what our practical guide will do has been requested over and over again.

But even with the best of materials, there will still be times when you need a hand. In addition to providing you with materials can help in several other ways.

  • Consulting: Even with the changing nature of Lean talent, there is still a need to bring in expertise from time to time to help get something accomplished. Whether you need someone to come in and guide your kaizen events, help you develop a strategy, or simply overcome a troublesome obstacle that is keeping you from progressing as fast as you’d like, we can help. Consulting can be done in person or remotely. Changing technology has made it easier than ever to get help from anywhere in the world. Our remote consulting lets you ask quick questions about projects whenever the need arises.
  • Coaching and Mentoring: Our consulting is focused on helping you resolve a specific problem. Sometimes, though, the help you need is more general. Perhaps you want to work on your problem solving skills. Maybe you’d like someone to help you get better prioritizing problems. Or maybe you want to improve your ability to lead in a Lean organization. We can provide guidance to you.
  • Training: While we advocate companies making every effort to train their teams themselves, we recognize that sometimes this is not practical. The most common reasons are that your team doesn’t yet have the skills you want to teach, or they just don’t have the bandwidth to prepare for and teach a class. Regardless of the reason, when you need help developing skills in your team, we can do onsite training or teach remotely in a private webinar.

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