Continuous improvement is a business management tactic with a long and successful track record. It is the means by which all business processes are improved upon regularly in small increments leading to long-term success. When planned and implemented properly continuous improvement processes can help your business steadily expand and grow.
Continuous improvement practices need to be implemented company-wide to be successful although every department or team should have different goals and activities. Improvement processes should not only bring about short and long-term changes but should also help create an environment where teamwork and collaboration are expected and rewarded. It is this environment that creates employees that are driven to help their company succeed.
What is a Continuous Improvement Process?
A continuous improvement process (CIP) is a systematic approach to create, prioritize and implement improvements in services, products, and processes. The goal is to achieve widespread and lasting success by making small improvements regularly. Over time, these processes lead to large improvements and foster a workplace where leadership recognizes small successes as a step towards future, perhaps larger, progress.
A continuous improvement plan should include common language and best practices so everyone participating understands the short- and long-term goals as well as the path to achieving them. Each CIP should be customized for the distinct goals of the implementing department. Although the concepts may be similar from department to department, the specific goals and achievements should be specific to each team.
How to Create a Continuous Improvement Process Plan
Before jumping into the creation of your improvement process plan, you need to determine areas for improvement. It is best to hone in on a specific area, like customer service or tightening cybersecurity. By focusing on a single goal, you can more easily outline the necessary steps to achieve your goal and track your progress.
You will need to design different CIPs for each area of your company. The steps for achieving better customer service will be different than the ones needed to improve your cybersecurity. A one-size-fits-all process won’t work.
There are many types of CIP plans and just as many ways to implement each of them. This article will look at two of the more commonly used templates for CIP, Kaizen and PDCA.
Agile Project Management is Key
Agile is a project management style that encourages short bursts of development, or ‘sprints,’ with each cycle having a preset continuous improvement goal. Agile project management is only successful when stakeholders and workers collaborate. This leads to better communication and understanding between the two groups, and, in turn, leads to more efficient and effective work down the road.
There are two commonly used models of agile management:
Scrum is a process management style largely used for product development and other knowledge-based work. It is based on the empirical scientific method in which a hypothesis is created, tested, the results are discussed, and any necessary adjustments are made.
The driving principle with the lean management process is maximizing customer experience and value while minimizing waste. A company that utilizes lean management will build and maintain a strong customer base. They can also quickly adapt when trends change without risking large losses.
The Tenants of Agile Management
Agile focuses on the interactions of people and how these interactions can fuel improvements. The goal is to deliver the most value possible within a predetermined period and budget. The basic tenets of agile are:
- The customer is always the first priority: The entire system is driven by the desire to provide customers with the best quality product or service for the best value. Although high quality is an important aspect, you can’t achieve success without attentive management and teamwork.
- Focus on individuals and interactions, not tools or procedures: The free sharing of ideas and plans is a mainstay of agile. Leaders accustomed to giving orders will have to adjust to the idea of serving on the team as opposed to leading it.
- Adapt and adjust: This style favors frequent reevaluation and reassignment of priorities and goals rather than a long, drawn-out plan.
- Prioritize solutions over promising reports: The building of prototypes is favored over the creation of reports. Examining a prototype will give you more valuable information than a report can.
Read on to discover how the agile management style lends itself to the two most common continuous improvement processes.
1. Kaizen Cycle
Roughly translated, Kaizen means “good change,” — a philosophy that drives this style of CIP. You can dive deep into Kaizen philosophy, but for our purposes, we will focus on the Kaizen cycle, which is the basic concept on which this CIP is built.
The cycle consists of 7 steps:
- Delegate people to find pressing problems and areas for improvement
- Prioritize those problems
- Create solutions
- Test those solutions
- Analyze the results
- Keep what works and make those solutions the standard
- Repeat the whole cycle
These steps only work if you remember the basic motto of the Kaizen process, “Every day, everywhere, and by everybody.” If you can accomplish this then you are well on your way to expanding and succeeding.
Like almost any path to success, this adage should remind you that teamwork, communication and commitment to a common goal are vital to the long-term success of any venture. Kaizen will not only help your company to fix existing problems but also help to create a bonded workplace better positioned to adapt to the ups and downs of the business cycle.
2. PDCA – the Deming Cycle
PDCA stands for “Plan, Do, Check, Act” and these are the four cornerstone tenets of the Deming Cycle. Created in the 1700s, this continuous improvement process has proven its value and effectiveness for hundreds of years. In fact, the International Standardization Organization (ISO) still uses it to create industry standards.
Like all continuous improvement plans, PDCA is only effective when you repeat it until you reach your desired goals and create new ones. Its simplicity is the key to its effectiveness, but it can also be a drawback. Instead of analyzing results along the way, the PDCA process finishes one cycle and adapts before beginning the new one. Because of this, it cannot easily adapt to a multitiered improvement plan, nor does it foster communication and teamwork like the Kaizen plan.
For this reason, the Kaizen plan may be the best choice for most of today’s business structures.
Implementing a Continuous Improvement Process for Your Company
There are many similarities between the Kaizen and PDCA continuous improvement practices and both of them share concepts with the lean startup method. All are based on the scientific method and make use of empirical evidence to drive change.
Even departments with wildly different goals can effectively use these same methods to drive change and achieve their respective goals.
A company that empowers its workforce to suggest, implement, and give feedback, creates a workplace environment where teamwork and open communications are the norm. This is an environment that leads to long-term success.