How to Identify Potential Continuous Improvement Projects

There’s an old business axiom that if you want to find a business idea, truly listen to the complaints of others because the solution to that problem probably has a market. And something similar can be said about continuous improvement projects, though there are additional questions you should ask before investing company resources.

To quote Dr. Jordan Peterson, before you decide what problems to solve, notice what bothers you.

First, pay attention to what bothers you. If you can’t actually name the problem, you can’t solve it.

Second, be careful of who and what you’re identifying as the problem.  You might be blaming the easiest target instead of the actual one, and there are times that we blame the official, approved target instead of the actual root cause.

And if you make the problem too broad, you can’t really solve it. “Precision may live tragedy intact but it chases away the ghouls and demons.” If you blame “management”, “the economy” or an “ism”, you’ve made the problem too big to be solved. Nor do you want to destroy everything, including what works, in the name of fixing the real, small problem. You can address problems like a product that doesn’t fit customer expectations anymore or researching new niche markets that use your product.

Third, ask “Can you fix it?” If the answer is no, ask who could solve it. There are times where the problem requires enlisting help to solve, whether you need to redesign the product or take the issue to your supplier. If the answer is “no one”, then look for something else until you find something you can fix.

Fourth, consider the return on investment for fixing the problem. It isn’t worth spending a hundred thousand dollars trying to fix a problem that wastes thousands of dollars of material. Nor should you invest hundreds of hours fixing minor annoyances unless these issues truly impact the bottom line.