Continuous Improvement Structure

A carefully considered continuous improvement structure is what will ensure long term results from organisations continuous improvement efforts. For sustained and maximum impact Continuous Improvement has evolved a preferred organizational structure of its own. Complete with titles and job descriptions. Naturally, this organization has to slot in seamlessly with the existing organization in order to minimize description.

Continuous Improvement Structure

*Note: This really brings me to a key principle of Continuous Improvement in that it tries to shy away from reinventing the wheel. It attempts to use and integrate what already works within a business. Examples are ISO, reward and incentive schemes, etcetera. So wherever possible do not think you have to recreate everything to make the process work better … for the sake of cycle time and reduced cost, build off what already exists.

Continuous Improvement requires a solid infrastructure to enable the management and governance of the initiative. Such a structure include integrated systems provided by IT, Human Resources and Finance to facilitate communication, tracking, training, implementation and project management.

Continuous Improvement Structure Organogram

A continuous improvement structure do differ from company to company, and so do job titles but in essence, a typical Continuous Improvement structure includes the following roles:

  • Lead Sponsor / Champion
  • Head of Continuous Improvement
  • Champions
  • Continuous Improvement Master
  • Continuous Improvement Experts
  • Continuous Improvement Practitioner
  • Process Owners
  • Team Members
  • Financial Validate

It is usually the “Head of Continuous Improvement”, “Continuous Improvement Master” and “Continuous Improvement Experts” that make up the Continuous Improvement structure while the remainder are different roles to ensure success. A brief description of each follows hereunder:

Lead Sponsor / Champion

Heading up the continuous improvement structure is often the head of the company or division. This is the person that may have initiated the adoption of Continuous Improvement and continuously speaks of its benefit to the entire enterprise.

(Knowledge 5/10, Project Involvement 1/10)

Head of Continuous Improvement

This is the role that is ultimately accountable for the implementation and success of Continuous Improvement. They make strategic and high-level operational decisions with regards to Continuous Improvement.

(Knowledge 7/10, Project Involvement 2/10)


Champions are typically senior and middle managers that identify, select and scope projects within their areas of responsibility. They address and remove roadblocks that hinder the progress of a project.

(Knowledge 5/10, Project Involvement 3/10)

Continuous Improvement Masters (CIM)

Support the Head of Continuous Improvement with implementation, manages the Continuous Improvement Expert community and is responsible for Knowledge Transfer – training of the organization.

(Knowledge 10/10, Project Involvement 5/10)

Continuous Improvement Experts (CIE)

These are the change agents and the centre of the Continuous Improvement effort. Continuous Improvement Experts are the full time involved in taking selected projects through the Continuous Improvement methodology while working in teams to identify causes and implement solutions.

(Knowledge 9/10, Project Involvement 10/10)

Continuous Improvement Practitioner (CIP)

Continuous Improvement Practitioners spend up to 30% of their time on projects that have an immediate impact on their areas of responsibility while maintaining their regular jobs. They also support Continuous Improvement Experts with large, cross-organizational projects.

(Knowledge 6/10, Project Involvement 4/10)

Process Owners

Process owners are the individuals that are accountable for the outcomes of the process under question. They usually report to the Champion that selected the project. Process owners implement and monitor the solutions that have been obtained from the projects.

(Knowledge 4/10, Project Involvement 9/10)

Team Members

These are individuals from the process that are the focus of the project. They bring their knowledge of the process and often assist in gathering data and developing solutions.

(Knowledge 2/10, Project Involvement 6/10)

Financial Validators

These are designated financial employees that verify the method used to calculate the project’s benefits and the actual benefits obtained.

(Knowledge 3/10, Project Involvement 2/10)

The remainder of this series of articles will refer to continuous improvement leaders to mean CIE and CIP.

Improvement Project Leader Selection

The key to the continuous improvement structure is an Improvement Leader. Improvement Project Leader selection is another area that can make a difference in the results that are obtained from your Continuous Improvement efforts.

The selection of CIPs is not that critical. In fact, the more employees that are trained at these levels the better the methodology is understood, facilitating a common language in a company and ultimately resulting in higher levels of performance.

It is really in the selection of CIE and CIM that organizations must take care of. CIE and CIM functions are typically viewed as leadership development programs and continue for about two years. Particularly with the initial implementation of Continuous Improvement, it is highly recommended that high potential and high performing individuals are appointed into these roles. After all the typical CIE projects yields $250 bottom line benefit and a CIE closes on average eight projects in a two year period. Thus, it is well worth the effort.

The characteristics of a CIE and CIM include:

  • Strong business leadership skills
  • Strong Business acumen
  • Display change agent abilities
  • Persuasive and influential
  • Possess analytical skills or analytically orientated
  • Project management skills
  • High level of facilitation skills
  • High level of communication skills
  • Action orientated – “Gets the job done”

Back to the introductory article for the series Implementing A Winning Continuous Improvement Program.

Back to the previous article in this series Getting Your Business Ready For Continuous Improvement.

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