Competing business priorities mean that continuous improvement is as much about the right mind-set as it is about the right actions
Continuous Improvement is a mind-set that focuses on making small, incremental improvements over time in order to improve products, services and processes. As it requires the participation of everyone in the organisation it is crucial that leaders help craft an environment of trust, collaboration and open communication. The incremental mind-set does require an investment of time and money on employee training and empowerment. Reward and recognition programmes should also support a willingness to experiment, learn from failure and encourage small improvements each day.
Sustainable continuous improvement focuses on “preventing fires” rather than just “fighting fires”
Continuous improvement is based on the belief that incremental changes add up to substantial improvements over time. It is as much about changing the culture of the organisation as it is about introducing tactics that help people focus on opportunities for improvement, rather than just problems.
1) Focus on incremental changes
Small changes can often be made quickly and relatively inexpensively. By focusing on these incremental changes we can often gain the benefit of “small wins” quickly. As a succession of small changes are implemented the team will begin to see the accumulation of benefits. Additionally, seeing the benefits of small changes often gives team members more confidence to suggest further ideas.
2) Gather ideas from the people doing the work
In a lean and continuous improvement organisation employees are our greatest asset as they are the main source of generating new ideas for improvement. Nobody knows the process, product or service better than the people who perform it each day. Additionally, nobody has more invested in making sure processes work than those involved in the process. A bottom-up improvement approach is effective as those closest to the problems are often the best equipped to solve them and helps increase ownership of the ideas.
3) Prioritise the inexpensive ideas
Implementing ideas that do not require a large amount of investment can remove some of the financial barriers to achieving continuous improvement. Prioritising inexpensive ideas can encourage colleagues to suggest and implement more ideas. This can also be empowering for employees as many incremental improvements may not require upper management approval. Ideas that eliminate unnecessary steps, reduce waste and re-organise in the work processes often fall into this category.
4) Empower the incremental improvement mind-set
As many employees are unaware of Lean principles and processes managers play crucial role in training and empowering their teams. It is a fundamental part of their role to help support and educate their people on continuous improvement techniques, as well as how they can be applied. Managers also play a big part in managing any cultural, personal or psychological barriers that prevent teams from trying out new ideas.
5) Use the power of regular feedback and testing
Your continuous improvement programme needs regular measurement and feedback. Begin by measuring your baseline performance as this can be used to help evaluate new ideas. An effective way of gathering feedback is to apply the Plan*Do*Check*Check (PDCA) approach to test any improvements. The approach measures the performance difference between the baseline and the target giving immediate feedback on the impact of the change. Measurement helps to demonstrate ROI on your improvements, often helping to get more support and funding for future initiatives.
Some questions you can ask to measure the impacts of your changes:
- Did it reduce the cost?
- Did it decrease the time required?
- Did it improve worker safety?
- Did it improve quality?
- Did it improve reliability?
- Did it increase profitability?
- Did it improve worker engagement?
Not all changes can be measured in terms of a quantitative ROI. Adding a quantitative element helps document the full impact of the change on the organisation. Measuring the human impact of changes can help increase morale, recognise team members for the impact they are making and support the recognition of your greatest contributors.
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