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Continuous Improvement – Your Complete Guide to Continual Improvement Process

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Businesses use a variety of methodologies to bring structure to how they identify and act upon improvement opportunities.

Some of the most common methodologies or principles include the Toyota Production System, Lean, Kaizen, and Six Sigma. While they all differ in terms of execution, they aim to achieve the same thing – continuous improvement.

The continuous improvement model does a very important job. It reflects the idea that businesses need to concentrate on bringing incremental improvements to processes, products, and services if they wish to continue to move in the right direction.

In this article, we’ll discuss the definition of continuous improvement, principles, and benefits while highlighting some real-life examples.

What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement, also referred to as continual improvement can be defined as a practice of constantly re-examining how you work to bring ongoing incremental improvements to work processes.  This methodology is important to scale processes and do so with greater efficiency and profit.

Remember that it is all about ‘doing’ but it isn’t something that you do. It’s how a company operates. Continuously improving means two things:

  • Creating a Culture that Promoted Improvement: As odd as it may sound, employees might be more aware of company processes than the management. Hence, it’s important to take everyone on board when it comes to improvement. The concept is simple, the process should include employees.
  • Focusing on Growth: Focus on small incremental growth and do not neglect the importance of process improvement. The aim should be to bring improvement to things on-the-go instead of concentrating on one-off change initiatives.

Whether you’re studying Kaizen’s principles or Lean management, you will come across the concept of continuous improvement. Remember that it is a process that never stops. A business never truly achieves perfection and it has to continue to work to improve how it operates.

CI Techniques and Tools

The first step in applying the model is to understand the theory behind it.  It is the job of the management to create a positive and encouraging business environment that supports the idea of continuous improvement. Whether you work in a team or individually, you must work to achieve continuous improvement.

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

Introduced by William Edwards Deming, this is the most popular technique businesses use to achieve continuous improvement.

The PDCA process can be defined as a never-ending cycle that suggests changes based on what you have achieved so far.

The technique was originally developed for quality control purposes but it’s now an integral part of the continuous improvement model.

The first step includes establishing processes and objectives necessary to get the desired results in accordance with your goals or target. You will not be able to find good results if you do not properly set output expectations.

Businesses should ideally start small to test the approach and then go big if everything looks perfect.

The next stage is called ‘Do’. This is pretty straightforward and involves executing your plan. In the end, compare your results (achievement) to your expected goal and figure out what went wrong in case the final result is not what you expected.

Gather data and think about what else you can change to grow. In case you achieved your goals, think about what more you can do to get even better results. DO NOT STOP improving.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

This Kaizen technique highlights the root causes of a problem. It is one of the most important parts of the Kaizen process and is designed to identify ‘what’s stopping you from achieving your goals.’

According to Kaizen principles, a cause is considered the root of a problem only if its removal results in the ‘prevention of the negative effect for good’.

This Kaizen process requires the management to work with the employees to better understand a problem. The process can be very long but it’s quite effective in achieving continuous improvement.

Applying Lean Kanban

After Kaizen, let’s concentrate on Kanban. It says to have a clear understanding of what you need to improve to get your desired results.

A lack of visibility will prevent you from reaching your goals. Remember that no business can grow without realizing what’s causing it to stop growing.

Toyota developed this system to make the production process more efficient. Just like Kaizen, Kanban has also been adopted by a number of businesses today. It involves six main practices:

  • Visualize your workflow
  • Manage flow
  • Eliminate interruptions
  • Make policies explicit
  • Improve collaboratively
  • Create feedback loops

Just like Lean and Kaizen, this technique also brings incremental improvements and improves work processes.

Why the Paradigm Shift?

Continuous improvement processes provide the same benefits as Kaizen and other principles. The aim is to uncover and fix business issues. Here’s how continuous improvement can benefit your business:

Increased Productivity

Since continuous improvement works on processes, it can make your business and employees more productive. This is of huge importance because reduced productivity is one of the major problems businesses have to deal with.

The continuous improvement process, like Kaizen, identifies wastes to increase profitability and reduce the risk of injuries and accidents.

More Profits

The purpose of every small change is to make the business more profitable. This is what all principles, be it Kaizen or Lean, are designed to achieve but not by concentrating on the bottom line.

The model improves different aspects of a business, i.e.: how employees work in a team, how products are purchased, etc. These small steps impact profit and eventually help a business make more money.

Greater Teamwork

Continuous improvement improves how employees work with each other. It enhances teamwork and can be great for collaborative efforts.

Whether you run a small business or a big multinational firm, you will, at some point, require to create a team to work on one goal. This is not always easy since different individuals look at things differently, which often kills the purpose of having a team.

By improving the team-building process, you can bring improvement to how teams work together.

Employee Morale

Your employees may have some great suggestions on how to improve products or processes, but a rigid organizational structure might be preventing them from sharing their ideas with the management.

The continuous improvement model pays special attention to this factor and works on improving employee morale. It pushes employees to put in their best foot forward and actively contribute to the business to make it better.

Greater Agility

A business that fails to change fails to find success. Look at Nokia, the company failed because it could not change with time.

Competition, new technology, and political changes are some of the reasons why a business may have to change or evolve. The continuous improvement model prepares employees for change so that they are not against the idea of using new products or processes.

In simple words, the continual improvement process prepares your business for the future.

Streamline Workflows

The continuous improvement technique helps management save time by streamlining workflows. It plays an important role in reducing operating overhead and making the business more profitable.

Prevent Overages

A project manager must know the resources (time, money, etc.) required to complete a task. Having a clear understanding of the resources needed to get a job done reduces the risk of overages and prevents wastes.

Continuous Improvement Principles

The process involves six main principles. 

Principle #1 – Concentrate on Small Changes

This point is of huge importance because we tend to dislike change, especially major change that does not only put us out of our comfort zone but also puts a lot of pressure on us.

The concept of improvement takes this into consideration and puts great emphasis on small adjustments that can cause major changes over time.

Principle #2 – Listen to Your Employees

The continuous improvement model takes into consideration all parts of a business including the management and employees. It realizes that employees are typically closest to the problems, and thus better equipped to solve them.

Consider getting your staff engaged and do not hesitate in asking for their suggestions. They might have some very good ideas. Instead of telling employees what to do to get better, ask what they think can be done to get better.

You do not have to do what they say but hear ’em out. This will not only help you come up with new ideas but also encourage employees.

Principle #3 – Incremental Improvements Do Not Cost a Lot

A smart entrepreneur is one who spends less and achieves more. Kaizen, continuous improvement and other similar ideologies realize this, which is why they suggest to get rid of processes and not add them.

By reducing processes, you save time and money. Plus, you also use fewer resources, which eventually benefits the company.

Principle #4 – Employees Get Involved and Take Ownership

As mentioned earlier, it can be hard to get people to change. Something as simple as asking an employee to work in a new team can create havoc for the department. People are less likely to complain if they are the ones behind the idea of change.

Kaizen, Lean and other principles suggest making employees accountable for their actions by getting them involved in the improvement process. This trick can help prepare leaders for the future while also reducing the risk of disagreements.

Principle #5 – Improvement is Reflective

The continuous improvement model heavily relies on timely feedback and open communication. This might sound simple on paper, but it can be difficult to pull off in a traditional environment.

Coaches or managers can’t always keep an eye on everyone involved in a process. Organizations often use continuous improvement software to keep everything under control. Such tools can be quite beneficial, so have a look at how they work.

Principle #6 – Improvement is Repeatable and Measurable

Changing something does not equal improvement. Remember that not every change will improve processes. You have to keep an eye on the ‘impact’ of each adjustment.

This is where analytics comes into play. Measure results in terms of the number of buyers, time spent on completing a job, etc. This will help you determine if the same idea can be applied to other processes.

How They Do It – Some Real Life Continuous Improvement Examples

Let’s have a look at some real-life examples to understand stand how you can continuously improve processes to enjoy better results.

Command Medical Products Improves Efficiency by 50 Percent

Based in Florida, Command Medical Products is a medical device manufacturer that produces disposable medical devices, including IV tubing, IV bags, catheters, and blood bags. The company takes care of the entire product lifecycle and hence full control overproduction.

It decided to use the Kaizen Method to improve the tube production processes.

The process initially consisted of several steps that included extended waiting times. They focused on saving time by reducing batching cycles without increasing resources. The plan proved to be a success and provided positive results:

  • 50% reduction in personnel
  • 50% reduction in WIP
  • 50% reduction in lead time
  • 50% reduction in cure time

This was possible due to following the continuous improvement principles that brought process improvement and helped the company produce more in fewer resources.

Multisite Bottling Line Brings 117 Percent Improvement to Work Efficiency

Multisite Bottling Line is a household goods manufacturer that changed processes to improve their operational efficiency. It took the company about four years to reach its goals.

It recorded 117 percent improvement on its 53 production lines by using techniques like parallel implementation and multilingual support.

This simple continuous improvement trick improved coordination and reduced the risk of errors by bringing all production lines under one visual platform.

According to the management, the company concentrated on process improvement and team building to get the desired results. They also used different continuous improvement tools to achieve their goals.

Conclusion on CI – Continual Improvement

Continuous improvement is a process that never stops. All departments should work as a team to get the desired results. Experts believe that it is the duty of the management to explain the concept of ‘improvement continuous’ to workers to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing and tracking. Continuous improvement becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using Rever’s dashboard, you can monitor the performances of your teams, the summary of their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology and guides your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations.

At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker and thrive. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people to achieve their full creative potential.

Interested in learning more? Then get a demo today with one of our friendly lean management experts.

THE FRONTLINE DOJO

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