By: Katie Johns
We have several clients who are inquisitive about continuous improvement, and all the tools and techniques to help with it. So, we thought it’s best to cover everything related to the topic.
- What is Continuous Improvement?
- Why is it so important?
- What are the areas that it can benefit?
- Are there any tools/ methodologies to enable Continuous Improvement?
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To begin with, let’s define it. As per Business2Community, Continuous Improvement is a method to make sure that your processes, methods, and practices are as efficient, accurate, and effective as possible. It helps to identify opportunities to streamline work and reduce waste.
Some of the benefits of Continuous Improvement are that it helps to smoothen the rough edges in the process, remove any hurdles, help choose the right tools and software, and leverage efficient methods. How exactly can you start with this amazing sounding principle? You need to assess the current state of your organization well. It includes the thing that you do well, your pain areas, the weak areas, and the roadblocks to your growth.
The main purpose of these changes is to streamline your work and reduce unnecessary and redundant tasks.
There are 2 ways that Continuous Improvement can be practiced- incremental continuous improvement and breakthrough improvements. With the first method, i.e., incremental improvements, changes are made to the practice, method and process (as and when issues are discovered). It is a more economical way of improving compared to breakthrough improvements. The incremental method doesn’t require any approvals to make small changes and it doesn’t bring the work to a halt as small changes can be made here and there.
Breakthrough continuous improvement necessitates larger changes with a review required from an entire team. It’s obviously a more expensive and costly way that requires bigger revisions but are necessary for processes to remain accurate and relevant.
There are several tools/ approaches that can help you with Continuous Improvement practice.
Kanban is a powerful visual project management tool. It can help you to tap the benefits of visual information with sticky notes on a whiteboard (which looks like a picture) as you work. You can easily see the work flows between the teams and communicate updates, context of the work and statuses. The tool is based on the fundamental that you must first know where you’re going with an understanding where you are. It can manage and optimize workflows.
The four pillars of Kanban are to visualize the process, limit work in process, emphasize on the flow, and continuously improve (of course).
PDCA is a four-step repetitive model to enable continuous improvement. As the name suggests, it consists of 4 stages. In the first stage, you need to plan the area of change, in the Do stage, you must implement the change, in the check phase you must analyze the results of implementing the change and check if it makes a difference, and in the act phase you must opt for a wider adoption if the change has yielded positive results.
The A3 approach first became popular for lean manufacturing practitioners. The approach is mostly used by lean and agile organizations and consists of three key stages. In the first stage, you much document the learning and all the planning that is required for solving a challenge, it requires communication with other people in other departments, and finally a structure is then given to the problem-solving approach.
The approach is especially useful for cross -functional planning and problem solving.
4. Gemba Walks
Gemba, in Japanese, means the real place. The approach requires manager and supervisors to observe areas of improvement where the work is getting done. They introduce small, low-cost and low-risk improvements. They try and suggest changes that are of significant impact.
The Gemba concept focuses on observation, value-add location and then interacting with people.
It might sound, to many, like an opportunity to find fault with other but it really is an exercise for observation, inputs and reflections.
5. The 5 Whys
So yes, there is a practice that is called the 5 Whys. It helps to identify the root cause of a business problem. The intent of this practice is to get past blame game, think beyond the problem at hand, think beyond the context of the problem, and then find a proper and sustainable solution.
It’s a simple approach that starts with why and goes on with the questions till one can find the root cause of the business problem.
This approach is best used with a pen and paper where you focus your energies to understand the flow of products/ services through the value stream. Also known as end-to-end system map, it considers all the activities, information systems and management that supports a process. It helps to reduce time to market as it improves decision making delays/ flaws in the process flow.
It just requires teams to get together and explain the steps involved to get a product/ service from end to finish.
This approach relies on documentation of best practices (for any process or task). Updated best practice must be complete and accessible. To get started, you need to create, classify, and document information related to the best and most efficient way to perform a task. Everyone in the organization practices the best practice so that the best results are achieved. With the help of continuous improvement, even best practices need to undergo improvement, and new practices shared thereafter.
There are many leaders who wish to develop a culture of continuous improvement, and the tools/ approached that we discussed above can help achieve it. If you are wondering about the best tool, you can either keep wondering or speak to the experts on this to help you understand the best tool/ approach for your unique situation.
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