Continuous Improvement: Learn to Work Smarter
Have you heard of the term ‘don’t just go through life, grow through life?’
It’s a way of life we could probably do with adopting for ourselves, but the same basis can apply to our business. Whether you are a multinational or start-up, we should always be growing in some way. This doesn’t necessarily relate to our growth in terms of size or employee numbers, but to the increase of profitability, efficiency and staff skill sets. There is always something to improve on, even in the most successful of companies.
At small scale, continuous improvement helps teams to operate more effectively. Implemented on a large scale, the outcomes can be much more profound – with your business going from surviving to thriving. The idea is that you learn to work smarter (not harder) constantly re-examining and improving processes, thus optimising the quality of your product/service.
It sounds great right? You’d think continuous improvement would be at the top of everyone’s agenda all day every day.
Many of us, although we may not like to admit it – love our comfort zones. Change can often be frowned upon – if it’s not broken, why fix it?
This is NOT how any business should be operating. We’ve seen the huge advances that the world has made in the last century. From people’s awareness to futuristic technology, you are not marketing to the same cohort you were ten years ago – it’s a fact.
Every business truly does have the power to be adaptive and stick out from the crowd – so make it exciting! It’s entirely possible, you just have to have the drive and motivation to do so.
How to introduce continuous improvement?
Before anything else – it is important to understand the concept of continuous improvement. It is not built on a set of ‘dos’ or strict orders, rather it is a mixture of both creating an organisational culture/mindset and making practical changes.
When we speak of creating a culture, the aim is to incorporate continuous improvement into the DNA make-up of the business. Every employee should have the opportunity and support to develop themselves, their processes and their work environment too. Managers will play a key role in the implementation of a culture, but the results will be ultimately down to how they choose to initiate the changes within the team. Establishing a why, effective communication, employee ownership of internal processes, employees studying their own success and failure – these are all tips for establishing a culture successfully.
The practical changes will be the visible changes seen in activities. This is ‘why’ we’re doing it and ‘how’ we’re doing it:
- Why – When employee A is off sick, employee B is unable to stand in for employee A’s role and responsibility. This means that often work becomes backlogged.
- How – addition training to enable employees to work more flexibly across the team. Documented processes to follow a checklist guide of the best way to complete that task and processes. Standard operating procedures that define the processes and use a task management software.
(You could call this the mathematical equation of continuous improvement!)
Implementing your process improvement method
There are several process improvement methods that will help you to continually improve your services and products. Here are three examples:
Lean Methodology – This philosophy sets out to enhance customer experience by defining the value placed on your product or service by the customer, and then working backwards to eliminate any waste (Muda) activities or processes. In essence, you are streamlining your processes to leave just what you need – leaving you with more time to focus on customers and growth.
Six-Sigma – This method is focused on improving the quality of business processes by using statistics to limit variation, to increase consistency and increase performance.
PDCA – Plan. Do. Check. Act. This is a cyclic process that uses trial, error and quantitative research to find the best solution to increase efficiency in processes.
Kaizen – Every process can be improved nothing should be set in stone. This subtle change approach for continuously fine-tuning processes and improving best practices.
Examples of continuous improvement techniques
The above methods of process improvement are tried and tested ways to implement change into your organisation. Here are some day to day examples that you can implement in your business structure, that work towards creating that culture of continuous improvement we all dream of.
- Regular think tanks – like we’ve said, having your employees backing on board is a big deal. Inviting relevant employees to regular meetings to discuss how processes are being run, and ask for suggestions for improvement is a great way to do this.
- Time Audits – We all love to waste it don’t we? And that’s fine – on the weekend! But at work, lost time can equate to lost profits. Time your processes and analyse where the losses are, eliminating steps that may not be serving your business.
- Catch ball – This is one of the simplest, but most effective methods of continuous improvement. This method involves allocating one staff member as responsible for the management of one process. It is up to that member of staff to state the purpose of the process, and ask for concerns from the rest of the group. The group then comes together to evaluate and suggest ideas for improvement. The individual is then responsible for its completion too.
- Surveys – Again – you’re giving your employees their voice. Do not overlook their feedback, they will be the people dealing first hand with customers and suppliers, and they’ll know where the faults are. It’s often the minor pains that can often create the most disruption, and unfortunately these are often overlooked.
Why should I adopt continuous improvement for my business?
- Growth in productivity and profits: You’re not guaranteed an immediate breakthrough – improvement takes time – however with patience and a driven-attitude, anything is possible. Essentially you can start to do less, for more! As the processes become more streamlined and more efficient, your organisation will reap the rewards in higher profits.
- Boost in employee morale: Autonomy is great for employees. Having some say in their job role and how it is performed, will increase motivation and drive for the success of YOUR business. Every employee is key – and they should be made to feel valued. A culture of continuous improvement helps to develop this. This too can develop into higher productivity and profits.
- Greater Agility: Once you’ve gone through a crisis or unpleasant experience, in the future if you’re faced with the same or similar hardship, you’re more prepared on dealing with it. It’s the same with employees at work. Whether they like it or not, change is a constant motion with (successful) businesses, but once they’ve seen the positive change once, they won’t be as afraid to go through it again.
A business with a culture of continuous improvement is one that all business owners should be aspiring too. Don’t stay stagnant and wait for your competitors to beat you to the post. Every business really does have the opportunity to adapt and be resourceful to make positive changes.
‘Don’t just go through life, grow though life’ Eric Butterworth
At Checkify – our goal is to aid businesses to do just that – help them weave through the various routes of continuous improvement.
Don’t hesitate and get in touch today
Over the years, there have been numerous studies on process improvement methodologies, and the Theory of Constraints is one of
When the Lean methodology was born out of the Toyota Production System, back in the mid-20th century, a principle aim