Continuous Improvement Leadership – Accelerating Your Success Part III

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

Posted 4/2/2024

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 Deming’s 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.
Read Part 2 here.

10. Eliminate slogans and exhortations: Remove motivational slogans and instead focus on creating systems that encourage intrinsic motivation and pride in work.

j.  Gimmicks do not motivate; value and mission statements that are not the lived experience of the workforce are damaging; broken promises destroy trust.  Building a motivated workforce takes leadership effort and is the primary day job.  Leaders must create systems that work in an environment of respect and recognise that the team may know best. We all know this, so why is it not made a primary focus?  Often, it is a case of the ‘squeaky wheel gets the most oil.’ Do not waste your time running around ‘putting out fires.’   Put your effort into creating systems and culture.  Make it a priority on your daily Leader Standard Work and then hold yourself accountable.  When the systems and culture are working, you will not need slogans or exhortations, neither will you spend the day chasing the next fire.  

11. Eliminate numerical quotas: Do away with arbitrary production targets and numerical goals, which can lead to poor quality.

k.  I consulted in one company whose sole focus ‘as a production centre’ was producing tons.  They were far less concerned that the tons were first quality or would command the highest price.  They were actually quite proud of the fact that they had a steady income stream from second quality product.  WIP was ten times more than what was required, and they were about to rent extra warehouse space to store even more ‘WIP,’ that was in fact off-quality product for re-work.  By adopting a CI culture, I reduced WIP by 40% and increased first pass yield by 15% in just 4 months.  Focus had to be good tons and robust systems to sustain the change, not ‘tons at all costs.’ 

12.  Remove barriers to pride in workmanship: Foster a sense of pride and ownership in employees’ work by allowing them to take pride in their contributions.

l.  The primary role of any leader in a CI culture must be to set the vison and remove the barriers. Your people cannot have pride in their work if they are constantly hindered and frustrated by physical and metaphorical barriers.  So how do you find out what the barriers are?  There are many extremely useful statistical tools, but why not start by simply asking your teams what you can do to improve their day? They will be quite candid if you are courageous enough to ask the question, and many will even offer solutions just for being considered able to offer a solution.  What you as the leader must reflect on after listening to their comments is to ask yourself, “Am I a barrier?”  If you are a barrier, then you have a positive data point for your own CI.

13.  Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement: Encourage employees to continuously learn and develop their skills.

m.  Invest in your people.  In one plant where I was the quality leader, the teams wanted to do something for charity and to get to know each other outside of work, so the business decided to support a local food pantry.  There was a cost, as the business paid the hourly rate when they were at the pantry as if they were at work.  However, the forward-looking GM saw the value in building morale, team spirit and giving people the time to just get to know each other.  The pay-off was that the teams brought these relationships back to the factory and new dialogue and opportunities were found that were not expected at the start of the scheme.  Meet the point of need for all your people and look for the opportunities – not the disadvantages. 

14.  Put everyone in the company to work to accomplish the transformation: Quality improvement should involve all employees at every level of the organization, not just a select few.

n.  In the recently published Project7 Consultancy book, ‘Tomorrow’s OpEx Today,’ (2023) we specifically address the issue that continuous improvement is not just the responsibility of quality, maintenance, and operations, but that the tools of CI – and more importantly, the culture that sustains CI – must have input from all departments HR, Suppliers, Purchasing, Logistics, Finance, Customers, etc.  I have seen that when CI is implemented in each of these areas, the business benefits through a common vision and from speaking a common language.  Everyone in CI leadership must as a priority look for opportunities in each department to show quick wins and move CI culture forward.   

CI Leadership – Conclusion

Deming’s 14 principles have been influential in the field of quality management and continuous improvement since the 1950s.  They have been adopted by many organizations worldwide as a framework for achieving continuous improvement. Importantly, these principles are as key to business success today as they were 70 years ago, and they will continue to maximise the potential of business going forward.  Key to this success is how CI is led and how that leadership builds an attitude and culture of continuous improvement, and it is not just about the tools and techniques – it is just as much about all your people.  Driving CI is about People + Processes to provide Performance, and neither on its own will change or sustain business.  Deming knew this 70+ years ago and I advocate that as leadership fashions come and go, we hold fast to his principles to drive and sustain continuous improvement. 


Deming, W. E., (1993) The New Economics For Industry, Government, Education. MIT CAES. Cambridge.  

Kenneson-Adams, A., (2023) Tomorrow’s OpEx Today.  Project7 Consultancy.

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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