Improvement or continuous improvement is a key component (or requirement) of a management system/plan, for example, a drinking water quality management system, recycled water management system and an environment management system. The concept of continuous improvement is not a new one and we have all heard about it.
When we develop a management plan, the assessment of the system may indicate that existing practices and control measures may not be adequate to achieve the objective/s. For example, an assessment of a drinking water supply may indicate that there are no documented operating procedures or that a treatment step is not working optimally.
The assessment of the system is used as a basis to develop an Improvement Plan to address identified needs for full implementation of a management system, and to demonstrate the culture of continual improvement. New improvement items should be continually added to the Improvement Plan, identified from for example, regular reviews and audits of the management system, incident management outcomes, risk assessment reviews etc.
In some instances, all that may be needed as an improvement action is to review, optimise and document the practices and in others, major infrastructure upgrades or changes may be needed. Improvement Plan actions can thus include short-term (e.g. within 1 year) or medium and long-term actions (e.g. 2-5 years).
It is recommended to write improvement actions in SMART goals format (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely), with assignments to specific staff for follow through. As stated in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines - “Improvement plans should include objectives, actions to be taken, accountability, timelines and reporting”.
Where significant resources may be needed, a detailed analysis and careful prioritisation should be made in accordance with the system assessment. It may be that improvements need to be prioritised and phased in.
Implementation of the Improvement Plan should be monitored to confirm that the actions are being completed and are effective. The management system should also be updated accordingly.
Typical challenges often faced with the Improvement Plan include:
monitoring of the Improvement Plan implementation
ensuring that the management system is kept up to date (e.g. through reviews and audits) to help with continual improvement
securing financial resources
lack of human resources (e.g. to manage workload, technical expertise)
lack of commitment from staff (e.g. senior executives)
lack of ownership of the improvement action