Continuous Improvement Leadership – Accelerating Your Success

Dr Anthony Kenneson-Adams. DBA. MA. BSc(Hons). FIoL, Head of Learning and Knowledge Transfer, Project7 Consultancy

Posted 2/6/2024

Introduction to Continuous Improvement Leadership

continuous improvement leadership

Leadership of Continuous Improvement (CI) must be a constantly evolving field to meet the cumulative challenges of Leadership 4.0, the retirement of the last of the baby boomer generation, the rise of hybrid working, the difficulties of recruitment into manufacturing, industries where facilities still rely on breakdown maintenance, increasingly competitive market sectors, reducing margins, etc.  

Though new leadership models are constantly coming in and out of fashion, when it comes to leadership of continuous improvement it is important to look behind the latest book or trend, deeply reflect on the true roots of CI Leadership and ask yourself “Am I prepared for the challenges of CI leadership in 2024 and beyond?” 

In this article that will explore CI leadership to its bedrock that precedes even the Toyota Production System, or TPS, (often credited as the origin of continuous improvement leadership), I will go back to the true father of quality and CI leadership, Dr. W. E. Deming.  In fact, Taiichi Ohno, the designer of the TPS, credited W. E. Deming with having a “significant role in the development of the Toyota Production System.”  

I will discuss Demings’ 14 Principles for quality and continuous improvement leadership and show, from my experience, how each principle is not only relevant today, but also transformative in preparing for and upgrading current continuous improvement leadership for the challenges leading CI through 2024 and beyond.  

Who Was W. E. Deming?

If you really want to get to know W. E. Deming, you could do little better than reading his seminal work The New Economics For Industry, Government, Education. (1993).  In this volume you will also learn how he further developed PDCA (Shewhart) cycle that so many of us hold as another pillar of continuous improvement.  

Deming was a renowned American statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant who won many prestigious awards including the National Medal of Technology that was awarded to him by President Reagan in 1987.  

He is most renowned for his work in post-war Japan where he was largely responsible for teaching senior executives the methods of quality management through CI that dramatically altered the post-war economy of Japan, particularly in the automotive industry.  

It was in Japan in 1960 that the emperor awarded Deming the Second Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure for exceptional contributions and outstanding service to the betterment of Japanese society.  

In Japan, Deming devised his fourteen principles which remain the bed rock of today’s CI models, even though many users are unaware that they originated with Deming 80 years ago.   

Deming’s 14 Principles for Leadership

Though I would not be so bold as to question the great man, I would offer the suggestion that we should think about these points today as those for leaders as opposed to managers.  By this, I mean that the west has become a more dynamic place where every individual wants to have a voice and where creativity and innovation are now encouraged from the ground up, rather than from the top down.  This change needs to be led by individuals who can inspire and engage people i.e. leaders, rather than managers who establish and maintain the routine.  Thus, let us think about Deming’s 14 points for continuous improvement leadership. 

1. Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services: Organizations should have a clear and consistent long-term vision and commitment to improving their products and services (sic). 

a. One area I see in many companies is the constant changing to the latest ideas or what my professor used to call trends from the latest ‘Airport Book.’  Change cannot be erratic and chaotic; change must be planned and implemented in a measured and additive way.  Never talk about the new ‘big idea,’ but being respectful about the good that has gone before, always speak about change as an evolution, the next stage of continuous improvement.  

2. Adopt a new philosophy: Management should embrace a new way of thinking, shifting from a focus on short-term profits to a focus on long-term growth and quality.

b. Sadly, and usually when times get difficult, decisions are still made for short-term gain that invariably bring long term-pain.   I have seen that when a large contract has been lost that the immediate reaction is to shed the work force, losing valuable experience that almost invariably will need to be replaced in the future, sometimes in as little as a few months.  Long-term growth requires a workforce that feels valued. It is then that they will be truly engaged.  When times are hard it is important for CI leaders to speak up for what is right for the long-term success of the business, not the short-term P&L.  

3. Cease dependence on inspection: Relying solely on inspection to catch defects is inefficient and costly. Instead, build quality into processes from the start.

c. This is one area where I consistently see that businesses now are doing well.  Quality Inspection in almost every case has been replaced with cultures of Quality Assurance.  Occasionally I see temporary transition point auditing, but the pervading culture is usually don’t accept poor quality, don’t produce poor quality, and don’t pass on poor quality.

…To be continued (next month)

Book Review – A Practical Guide to Creating Operational Excellence and High-Performance Teams

In this latest book from ‘The Project7 Consultancy,’ Dr Kenneson-Adams provides the simplified OpEx tools and practical experience to give the reader all they need to begin to implement a robust lean manufacturing stratergy with high-performance teams and authentic transformational leadership.    

read this book to learn about continuous improvement leadership

Kenneson-Adams uses his 40 years’ experience in implementing high-performance teams to provide a well sign-posted journey to Operational Excellence, while making sure the reader knows how to sustain the changes as part of an integrated ‘People + Process = Performance’ continuous-improvement journey.  

Its balanced analysis, practical insights, and accessible writing style make this an invaluable addition to the library of any professional engaged in the field of operational excellence and continuous improvement.  

If you are not sure how to begin your journey to operational excellence or need a mentor through design and implementation?  This no-nonsense volume will be the teacher and coach that you need.

 Get your free copy here


Dr Anthony Kenneson-Adams

Dr. Anthony Kenneson-Adams had a 30-year career in the Royal Air Force, becoming a Senior Engineering Officer, Project Manager and Engineering Authority responsible for multiple fast jets and large-body aircraft in peace and war operations. On retiring from the Royal Air Force, he became a Corporate Operational Excellence Consultant in the Paper Manufacturing and Packaging Industries and is now the Head of Learning and Knowledge Transfer for the international Project 7 Consultancy.  You can contact Anthony at or [email protected]

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