Improvement Initiatives Are Like Diets

All diets work while one is dieting.  However, once the desired weight loss is achieved the vast majority of dieters go back to their normal eating habits and lifestyle.  The result is that all diets are statistically long term failures because the fundamental issue of a lifestyle changes was never addressed.  But we never hear about the failure, only the near term success.

Improvement methods/initiatives like Lean, Six Sigma, TQM, Theory of Constraints, ISO, etc. are very much like diets.  When a company is committed to and focused on applying the flavor or diet of the month, it inevitably achieves the improvements it sought.  However, most companies shift the focus to another area, problem, or initiative once the initial gains have been achieved.  The result is that the initial improvements spring back over time.  No one ever publicizes this fact so we only hear about the initial success.  In fact, many success stories are improvements on improvement initiatives that did not take hold from years before.

The problem is that most improvement initiative and tools do not address the need for a management system platform and culture that must sustain the improvement over time.  They just assume that it is there.  In fact, most organizations do not have a management system platform that was engineered and evolved to absorb the improvements and to make them permanent.  In these cases most improvement initiatives are ultimately doomed to long term failure.

So what must we do to avoid this trap?  Like Stephen Covey said: “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Start by focusing on understanding your organization’s processes and their interaction.  Then standardize and stabilize these processes.  Involve people at all levels of the organization in this effort to ensure process ownership, responsibility, and consistency.  You will be surprised by how much “low hanging fruit” you will find.  Use process mapping to capture and document the resulting current state.  Then develop appropriate process measurables to measure and monitor the processes.  The result will be a management system platform and infrastructure that will allow you to much more rationally, practically, and effectively apply improvement tools and methods.

Sorry folks, there is no silver bullet.  Improvement and organizational excellence are a journey, not an event.

Kirill Liberman, President

6 Responses to “Improvement Initiatives Are Like Diets”

  1. mike h says:

    Interesting point. One of the problems we had was that the project manager that led our Six Sigma project moved on to another project after the she was done. Things started falling apart shorly after that and we had to bring in another person to manage the area. Things did not go back to the way they were before, but it took effort to not loose the improvements.


  2. Kirill Liberman says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for visiting the Organizational Excellence Blog and for sharing your experience.

    Questions: does/did your company have a formal management system before getting into Six Sigma? It sounds like the changes developed as part of the Six Sigma improvement project were not really successfully integrated into a formal business system. The readers may be interested in knowing if you think the lack of a formal management system contributed to the problem or if some other factor played a primary role.


    Kirill Liberman

  3. mike h says:


    We did not and still don’t have a formal QMS. I have been suggesting it for a long time. We are not certified to ISO or any other standard.

    obviously, I think the lack of a formal QMS was/is factor. But this is a symptom of a bigger problem, which is not having a culture and leadership that values a formal management system.


  4. Kirill Liberman says:


    Thanks for confirming my suspicions. Management commitment and support is essential. I am sorry that your company does not seem to have it yet. At least they are trying. Unfortunately, they may be in the category of looking for a “magic bullet.”

    Let me know if I can help in any way.

    Kirill Liberman

  5. Janice R. says:

    Kirill – you’ve put in writing what I’ve been telling personnel in my organization for a long time. I just sent the link to this article to my company’s leadership to further reinforce the point. Thank you.

    – Janice R.

  6. Kirill Liberman says:

    Wolcome to the blog, Janice.

    Thank you for you comments. I am glad this articel can help you reinforce your points internally. Getting leadership to see the big picture is critical to the sucess of any initiative. Specifically, investing the in the improvement of of the organization’s management system infrastructure and structural framework is a vision that management must posess, beyond simply looking at the ROI.

    I hope you will return to the blog and share more of your thoghts on other articles.

    Thanks again.

    Kirill Liberman

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