Continuous Improvement Leadership: Accelerating Your Success Part II

Dr. Anthony Kenneson-Adams. DBA. FIoL, Project 7 Consultancy

Posted 3/5/2024

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.  

Read Part 1 here.

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 that I consistently see where 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.’

4. End the practice of awarding business based on price alone: Select suppliers based on their ability to provide high-quality products and services, not just their price.

d.  I see this as industry dependent overlaid with the reality of the cost of raw material.  Another complicating factor in industries such as aerospace is the scourge of single source supply.  If a manufacturer has a monopoly, then they ‘call the shots on price.’  I see far more competition in automotive and the pulp and paper industries so buyers can have more options to source the ‘best’ rather than the ‘only.’  That said, even recycled paper is now seen more as a commodity, so buyers often have little choice.  However, if there is choice, cheapest is not always the lowest ‘full life’ cost. 

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service: Continuous improvement should be an ongoing effort, with processes continually refined and optimized (sic).

e. This is the heart of the leadership of CI.  An attitude or culture of continuous improvement brings the biggest impact to the business. This is the core of the Project7 book ‘Tomorrow’s OpEx Today,’ (see link below to download your copy) which focuses on building a living culture of CI that sustains continuous improvement.  When the teams are engaged and are driving short interval control, process conformation, constant root cause problem solving, Gemba, etc., CI becomes a self-sustaining culture of constant optimisation and refinement where the role of leadership is simply to provide the vision and remove the barriers.   

6. Institute training on the job: Provide employees with the necessary skills and training to perform their jobs effectively.

f. This was never more essential, as since the days of Deming apprenticeships and work-based training has taken a major hit, and only very recently has this started to be addressed.  Each employee should have a formal improvement plan to build agility and a career path.  Consider techniques such as ‘Participative Action Research in Teams’ (PART) as a force multiplier for your training success, aligned with a proactive policy of capturing the experience of your soon to be retirees to use this experience to set up training and mentoring programmes.  These are also key programs to provide you with business continuity planning.   

7. Adopt and institute leadership: Effective leadership is crucial for driving quality improvement throughout the organization.

g.  Businesses need to have effective leaders who model company values and expectations, who foster diversity and who are given the tools to be successful.  Again, I see that the skills of leadership are often expected to happen more through osmosis than policy.   Importantly leadership growth is not the sole responsibility of HR; in fact, I would say they have the minimum responsibility here.  The MDs, GMs and Department heads have the responsibility to define what they need for leadership and to play an active part in the development and mentoring of that leadership.  HR may help in selecting outside agencies to help build the framework for the training, but the ownership must be with the business not the consultant. 

8. Drive out fear: Create an environment where employees feel safe to voice concerns and suggest improvements without fear of reprisal.

h.  Psychological safety and emotional intelligence along with Authentic Leadership are essential to create and nurture an innovative and engaged workforce.  Without exception, adopting these new disciplines always brings business results.  There are still toxic businesses and toxic ‘bosses’ out there who ‘rule’ by fear.  My advice if you find yourself in such a situation, begin your exit plan today, you deserve better.  Read more about psychological safety in the workplace.

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9. Break down barriers between departments: Promote cross-functional collaboration and communication to improve processes and products.

i. I still see departments in business separated by metaphorical ‘walls.’  Foundry staff that will not speak to CNC machinists, painters that will not speak with welders, printers who will not speak to the people who mix their inks, wastepaper yard operations teams who do not speak to the paper machine operators.  Business is improved every time these ‘walls’ are removed.  How are they removed? In my opinion it starts simply with communication?  Ask people what they need, give them an opportunity to contribute, ask why they do not speak up.  It will sometime be through lack of opportunity, sometimes it is due to misunderstanding, or an incident that happened years ago, or ‘it is just the culture,’ etc.  This is something leaders can change by simply taking the lead.  

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.    

Kenneson-Adams uses his 40 years’ experience in implementing high-performance teams to provide a well sign-posted journey to Operational Excellence, whilst 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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