“Improvement is a challenge of learning, not implementation.” -Forman, Stosich, Bocala The Internal Coherence Framework: Creating the Conditions for Continuous Improvement in Schools
We live in very interesting times…
The pace and acceleration of change and the digital disruption we are experiencing is no longer just about change, as it is no longer enough to just change. It is much deeper than that…
We have to learn.
We must learn in order to adapt to a world that is shifting around us in exponential ways.
Or as the CEO of AT&T recently stated, “Your skill-set is 2 years, max!”
It is in that ability to learn and adapt, both as individuals and as organizations, that we are able to not only remain relevant, but move towards a mindset of continuous improvement.
This idea of continuous improvement is very different than the mindset from which education has often worked from for many years. Or as Edwards Deming shared in 1991 in regards to education, “We as a field are characterized by miracle goals and no methods.”
Continuous improvement is a move away from those “miracle goals” to looking at the strategies, processes, methods and structures that allow for ongoing learning, growth, and improvement.
Or as shared in The Superintendent’s Advisory Task Force from CDE,
“Continuous Improvement: A continuously improving education system is one that learns from experience by carefully measuring the effectiveness of different policies and practices, supporting the intrinsic motivation of educators and stakeholders, sharing best and promising practices, cultivating a culture of reflection and learning, encouraging innovation, and making changes based on learning.”
Which is a very different proposition than Demings reference to “miracle goals” and “no methods.”
And while continuous improvement is not new to the business world (be that as Six Sigma, Kaizen, Kanban, Lean, Agile, Scrum, Toyota Production System), it is just beginning to take root in education.
To better understand the ideas behind continuous improvement, the KaiNexus Blog shares the core, or 6 Principles of the Continuous Improvement Model:
Principle 1 – Improvements are based on small changes, not major paradigm shifts or new inventions.
Principle 2 – Ideas come from employees.
Principle 3 – Incremental improvements are typically inexpensive to implement.
Principle 4 – Employees take ownership and are accountable for improvement.
Principle 5 – Improvement is reflective.
Principle 6 – Improvement is measurable and potentially repeatable.
When looking back at Demings reference to the issue with education being “miracle goals” and “no methods” we can begin to see how this mindset/shift to a continuous improvement model reverses Demings concern, as it moves us away from a focus on “miracle goals” towards a push for “methods,” processes, strategies, and structures that lead us towards continual and ongoing learning, growth and improvement.
As with any strategy or shift in the way our individuals or organizations operate, learning has to be at the heart of the change process. Far too often, especially as we move into the unknowns and uncertainties that accompany any change, we often revert to compliance over creativity and implementation over innovation in pushing the initiatives that we initiate. We choose control, in place of capacity and autonomy. Rather, we must learn to understand where each of these has their place, and where each is appropriate to effectively support our individuals and scale it across the organization not only efficiently, but effectively.
As Ron Ashkenas adds in his article It’s Time to Rethink Continuous Improvement from Harvard Business Review, when approaching the idea of continuous improvement across an organization, we need to consider:
“Customize how and where continuous improvement is applied.”
“Question whether processes should be improved, eliminated, or disrupted.”
“Assess the impact on company culture.”
For which Ashkenas adds, “Continuous improvement doesn’t have to be incompatible with disruptive innovation. But unless we think about continuous improvement in more subtle, nuanced, and creative ways, we may force companies to choose between the two.”
In closing, when considering this idea of continuous improvement, both as individuals and organizations, and as we learn to move away from “miracle goals” and “no methods,” it will require that we keep continuous learning and adaptability at the center of this improvement shift. Both as individuals and as organizations.
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” -Benjamin Franklin