Business process improvement often begins with setting a big project goal and planning an extensive scope of action for a short-term period. This approach is based on the assumption that the greater goal will inspire and provide motivation to act and deliver results to those involved. In practice, it may result in failure to deliver desired results on time, postponed project deadlines and even burnouts.
There are also organizations that take a different approach, known as Continuous Improvement (CI). This approach is rooted in the assumption that ongoing incremental improvements to processes, products and services will have significant impact over time in terms of improvement of quality, efficiency, customer satisfaction as well as reduction in costs, waste and compelxity.
To ensure on-going actions and improvements take place daily and do not stop with time, organizations use a systematic approach to constant review, measurement and action, known as the Deming Cycle of Plan, Do, Check and Act (PDCA).
The PDCA Cycle is a circle with no beginning or end. It emphasizes the inherent idea of CI that improvement never stops.
Organizations that buy into CI implement it as a way of working and integrate it into the organizational culture. They ensure managers and employees have consistent purpose and dedication to ongoing improvement in their functional area, team and personal development.
Companies that fail to practice CI with consistency but still want to leverage the approach, engage in so-called Rapid Improvement (RI) activities. This is an event-based approach, where a few days are dedicated to identifying improvements that have the most impact and that can be implemented within a shorter time frame.
CI can be and is practiced across industries. For example, CI is important for process-intensive industries as it allows to identify and eliminate bottlenecks and inefficiencies in order to reduce costs, time, waste and process complexity. These companies create their competitive advantage through optimization of the whole supply chain, starting from raw materials to end product delivery. In product- and service-intensive industries, CI allows to collect customer feedback in order to enhance product/service features, improve its quality and optimize the production/delivery process. In the software industry, CI is integrated in the software development process. It is common that after the release of the software product to the market, more releases take place in the future as more customer feedback is collected.
Despite the wide spread of the practice across industries, there are companies and practitioners that believe that, as a highly rigorous approach, CI can limit creativity and innovation. Therefore, the decision to practice CI should largely depend on specific company goals and potential gains it may bring. It is also important to remember that there are two ways in which CI is currently being practiced – formal and informal. When practiced formally, CI is integrated throughout the organizational culture and processes and practiced systematically. When CI is practiced informally, organizations adapt the philosophy, develop own informal guidelines and practice them flexibly.
Does your organization practice Continuous Improvement? How does it do it? Let us know in the comments below!
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