6 Continuous Improvement and project management trends to watch in 2020



Operational Excellence is a hot topic in the boardroom, yet project teams still struggle to deliver self-sustaining initiatives. Could 2020 be the year when Continuous Improvement becomes truly continuous?

Written by: James Milsom, Head of Marketing

Most industries today are dealing with the impact of digital disruption. As technology lowers the barriers to entry, agile predators can easily slip into new markets. These can take a bite out of larger incumbents’ market share. To survive in these increasingly red ocean markets, players need to make themselves as lean and efficient as possible.

From a strategic perspective, the quest for efficiency puts a new emphasis Continuous Improvement, in particular project management.

In the past, most organizations have struggled to deliver true Continuous Improvement. Many initiatives seem initially successful, but as soon as senior leaders’ attention moves on to the next project, the impetus for change dissipates and the engine runs out of steam.

As we look ahead to 2020, however, there are signs on the horizon that this is changing.

We’re seeing a wider appreciation that focusing on Strategy Execution can help organizations deliver and sustain ongoing operational efficiency gains. In this article, we’ll explore six key trends that could make 2020 the year when continuous improvement becomes truly continuous.

The six Continuous Improvement and project management trends to watch in 2020

In summary, Continuous Improvement and project management in 2020 will be defined by six themes:

1) Governance will take center stage

2) Leadership behaviour is the key to making CI real

3) Project management methodologies will be better understood

4) Project management teams will embrace diversity

5) Organizations will place greater effort in sustained CI efforts from individual practitioners

6) Digital CI solutions will gain wider adoption

Read on to learn why we’ve chosen these six trends to define the space in 2020.


1) CI governance will take center stage

Strategy and project management teams increasingly recognize the fact that Continuous Improvement initiatives are not intrinsically self-sustaining: they will only keep running if the business continues to see them as a priority.

The traditional way to ensure initiatives are taken seriously is to secure executive sponsorship, but this is unsustainable. Senior leaders must be able to move on to new projects instead of babysitting the same initiatives forever.

Instead, we’ll see a move towards a more systematic approach. The initial delivery of each project will include the construction of a rigorous governance framework. This will continue to monitor progress automatically and provide regularly updated metrics which are integrated into strategic reports and executive dashboards.


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2) Leadership behavior is the key to making real Continuous Improvement

Humans naturally resist change. A successful programme of change will begin from the top down, where encouragement of the 'correct' behaviors from leaders make the achievement of goals more likely. This holds true for Continuous Improvement.

When Continuous Improvement via Lean Six Sigma, for example, is adopted there requires a significant shift in an organization's mindset.

In 2020, management's position will proactively shift from simply supporting the idea of CI to buying-into the execution of improvement. This will be through:

  • Investment in suitable training and communication of initiatives
  • A connection of CI to the vision and strategic goals of the organization
  • Communicating the importance of CI
  • Active engagement in CI initiatives
  • Recognition and support of employees' participation
  • Investment in digital solutions to drive engagement, participation, and success to feed a higher quality of standardized work.


3) Project management methodologies will be better understood in their role with CI

As Continuous Improvement rises higher on the corporate agenda, the methodologies for delivering it will become a matter of hot debate, not only within the project management office, but at all levels of the business. Instead of each project team adopting its own favorite methodology, organizations will seek to standardize on a single, enterprise-wide approach.

Whether the ultimate decision is for Agile, Scrum, Lean, CPM or a combination of tools from multiple methodologies isn’t important. The key is that each organization needs to find an approach that fits with its strategic objectives and its operational needs, with this implemented consistently across all projects.

To achieve this, leadership buy-in is paramount. Project management offices will need to take responsibility for educating and raising awareness among senior management teams.

Resources from sites such as stratexhub.com can be a key tool in explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, and help to build consensus among decision-makers.


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4) Continuous Improvement project management will draw strength from diversity

CI projects may be envisioned by the C-suite and delivered by the PMO, but their long-term impact depends on the operational teams responsible for their execution.

This means that each project has a diverse range of stakeholders, with different backgrounds, experience levels, priorities and concerns, who may become involved with the initiative at any point in its lifecycle.

For an initiative to succeed, all these stakeholders must be able to play their role.

Organizations will therefore look to adopt processes and technologies that make it easier to communicate, collaborate and contribute about projects, and ensure that a diverse range of perspectives are included in the decision-making.


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5) Organizations will place greater effort in sustained CI efforts from individual practitioners

Regardless of the methodology and tools, driving ROI from investing in the training of your staff for the purpose of supporting project management is a natural desire for organizations.

It is a fundamental challenge of businesses across the globe to ensure that their project managers are well trained to ensure the maximum success of their intiatives.

With $97 million wasted for every $1 billion invested in projects, to stem the tide of searching outwards for project management contractors, it is logical to train your staff to deliver improvement. But, it is equally crucial that businesses employ these newly trained project managers to deliver sustained Continuous Improvement efforts.

To that end, we will continue to see the utilization of training and certification through qualified institutions, but a renewed focus on ensuring project managers regularly complete initiatives.

6) Digital Continuous Improvement solutions will gain wider adoption

Traditionally, organizations have been resistant to the idea of adopting new technologies. This extends to those which support disciplines such as project management and continuous process improvement.

The general tendency has been to stick with well-worn, familiar technologies such as spreadsheets and email. Often this results from a fear that implementing new technologies will take too long, they are too costly, or that project stakeholders will not be willing to learn new tools.

However, two trends are combining to make most organizations rethink this tech-phobic approach.

First, the delivery of strategic initiatives has become too important to be entrusted to tools that are not fit for purpose. Secondly, Strategy Execution tools have now matured to a point where they are much easier to implement, adopt and use.

For those involved in the management of projects and CI, digital transformation brings the benefits of automating tasks and driving greater efficiencies in their tasks. However, more importantly, it frees up time, as TechRadar puts it, to:

“focus more on big-picture thinking and strategic planning instead of the nuts and bolts process work that used to be a hallmark of managing projects. [They] can do more with less, which means more focus on results and less on process work.”


For example, i-nexus’ Strategy Execution platform provides intelligent workflows to help strategy teams break down Continuous Improvement initiatives into practical goals, and cascade them down to project management and operational teams.

An intuitive mobile app then allows project participants to capture their progress against each goal, providing live status information that is automatically consolidated into higher-level reports and dashboards.

As a result, every stakeholder can instantly gain an overview of how the overall initiative is going, and whether it is truly delivering its continuous improvement objectives.


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What are the next steps?

With these trends firmly in mind, i-nexus can help you establish an enterprise-class Strategy Execution platform that will help drive a culture of continuous innovation and improvement.

By empowering you to convert strategic visions into far-reaching operational change, our platform will help your business harness disruptive technologies and seize competitive advantage.

To learn more about continuous improvement and operational excellence visit our knowledge hub and explore our resources below:


About the author

James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus. James has wide-ranging experience in markets such as telecommunications, energy, education, and software.

As Head of Marketing, his drive is to raise awareness and understanding of the challenges facing enterprises in delivering strategic objectives and transformation amidst changing markets and the obstacles traditional tools and methods present leaders.

If you’d like to talk more about Strategy Execution, reach out to James on james.milsom@i-nexus.com or connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest insights.

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