What Is Continuous Improvement? Definition, Benefits And Tools

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Does your business have a continuous improvement framework in place? If your business doesn’t have a continuous improvement framework in place, you’re setting your business up for disaster. Please read below to learn more.

To get and stay ahead of your competition, it is essential that your business processes operate at maximum efficiency. After all, process efficiency has a significant impact on company profits, agility and productivity. 

The best way to accomplish this is through something known as Continuous Improvement.

What Is Continuous Improvement? 

Just as the name suggests, continuous improvement is the process of continually reviewing and improving business processes. 

From afar, the concept might seem like a buzzword. You hear the term being thrown around but no one ever really talks about what it involves. In the business world, ‘theory’ never gets you too far. 

The reason why there is so much confusion when it comes to continuous improvement is that it isn’t something that you should be doing; instead, it is how you should operate as a company. 

As a company keen on improving its processes, taking on continuous improvement means two things:

1). Fostering a Culture of Improvement – Most of the time, it is the employees on the floor who are experts on a company’s processes and not the management. 

As such, continuous improvement shouldn’t only be the process improvement team’s responsibility but everyone’s responsibility.

2). Focusing on Growth – As a company, you should continually focus on incremental improvement of your products, services and processes. 

That means doing things on-the-go and perfecting this skill rather than taking on one-off change initiatives. 

If you are acquainted with various process management terms, chances are you are wondering how they correlate. Here is how:

Business Process Improvement – This is the act of evaluating, restructuring and improving single processes. Continuous Improvement will mean carrying out a business process improvement initiative every time the need arises. 

Business Process Management – This practice of process review and improvement and isn’t that different from continuous improvement. 

The only difference lies in the fact that continuous improvement is more like a “philosophy” that companies should follow, while business process management is a particular set of techniques and tools. 

The latter can be used as a means of creating a continuous improvement culture, but it generally does not work the other way around.

Business Process Reengineering – Instead of improving existing processes, companies re-create them using a new methodology or technology.

 continuous improvement processes

Adopting Continuous Improvement: The Benefits

Continuous improvement methodologies allow businesses to uncover a problem(s) and find ways to fix it. Little, constructive changes will have a considerable impact on a company’s overall process over time. 

Here are a couple of ways continuous improvement will benefit you over time:

Increased Productivity and Profits 

By progressively improving business processes, you should start experiencing better results per input. As a result, your business will become more efficient, something that will finally translate into much higher profits.

Employee Accountability and Morale

Employees tend to have lots of great ideas on how a company can improve its processes or products. 

However, when the organisational structure isn’t conducive or is too rigid, that could leave workers unmotivated as they know their ideas will be shut down. 

Companies that have adopted the continuous improvement culture creates the perfect environment for employees to participate. 

Since they are a crucial part of organisational growth, employees feel motivated to go the extra mile and even contribute. The feeling of being valued will increase their accountability and overall morale.

Greater Agility

As an organisation, you need to keep changing if you want to keep up with or beat your competition. When employees aren’t used to seeing changes, they will not be phased when crisis and changes come. 

 continuous improvement team building

Continuous Improvement: How Does It Work?

Getting an organisation used to continuous improvement is not easy. It is not something that you do abruptly. 

You cannot just wake up one day and tell your employees that your company will start functioning differently from there on out. 

Making changes in an organisation is hard work, and that’s especially true if you are planning on making significant changes. Nevertheless, you still need to start somewhere. So, first things first.

The first thing you need to do is to inform your management about your plans. Most company management teams are always ready to welcome any suggestions on how to improve company processes. 

After that, you will need to allow some time for business process improvement initiatives to be established. 

Once anyone suggests a credible way of improving a process, you will need to assign a team or individual (depending on the skills required to improve the process) and put them in charge of developing it.

To have an easier time doing this, you can use a variety of well-established continuous improvement tools:

Kaizen

Kaizen is Japanese for “change for the better.” The technique was first put into practice during WWII by Japanese businessmen.

According to Japanese management consultant and Kaizen expert Masaaki Imai, through his book “Kaizen: The Key To Japan’s Competitive Success” there are two types of processes that you should consider taking up to establish a continuous improvement culture. These are Kaizen Corners and Quality Teams. 

Kaizen Corners 

The Kaizen Corners methodology recommends that employees are allowed to hand in their suggestions on how to improve business processes. For the best results, consider splitting it into three stages:

Stage #1: All employee suggestions are considered and implemented. This way, the entire team knows that their input is valued.

Stage #2: Train employees on how to analyse existing processes to make better suggestions.

Stage #3: Offer employees economic incentives for contributing to the improvement of processes.

Once enough suggestions have been made, start improving processes.

Kaizen continuous improvement

The PDCA Cycle

Another popular process improvement tool is the PDCA – Plan Do Check Act – cycle. 

The four-step approach is generally depicted as a circle since the continuous improvement process is one that needs to be repeated over and over. 

Plan – During this stage, you identify the present opportunities and come up with an improvement plan. 

You can start by defining the problem, then outlining current opportunities, brainstorming ideas before coming up with a plan. It is essential that you clearly state the desired outcome once the problem is solved.

Do – Once identified possible solutions; the next thing is to implement your plan on a much smaller scale allowing you to test the solution and see if the changes achieve the desired outcome. 

Testing a solution using this approach is one of the ways to know if it works without making significant interferences.

Check – With this stage, you compare results to the anticipated outcome you defined during the planning stage. 

If the desired outcome wasn’t achieved, start all over again. If it works, move to the fourth, and final stage of the PDCA cycle. 

Act – When in the final stage, implement the solution you came up with on a much broader scale. 

It is worth noting that this cycle is not a one-off initiative. Whenever, there is an opportunity to improve your organisational process, repeat the process. 

Conclusion

New technology, a changing economy, staff shortages, and budget concerns are all dynamics that’ll eventually force any business to make adjustments. 

Organisations that embrace continuous improvements have a better chance of acting on changes and staying on course. An authoritarian and rigid organisation won’t. 

If you want help developing a continuous improvement culture in your company, a workflow management system can help. 

Letting your employees know that they are going to be handling things differently is one thing and implementing the changes is another. 

Is your business lacking a continuous improvement framework and constantly adding extra costs into your business without showing any real customer benefit? Then you need to speak to us at High Velocity Business Improvement Coaching.

We coach your business to understand your problems, the size of the problems and how to solve the true root cause of the problems.

This means you can fix minor issues before they become major problems and deliver a better overall customer experience for your customers.

Please contact us today to book a free consultation or for more information.

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