Customers and business partners are placing ever-higher demands on the service levels your organization provides. This is why ‘continuous improvement’ is a great way to keep your organization moving with the times.
But what is continuous improvement exactly? And what tools and methods are available to assist you?
But what is continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement is a series of incremental adjustments intended to improve productivity, quality, and turnaround times.
Often, it includes a financial dimension – cost limitation, which may either be the actual purpose of implementing continuous improvement or merely an incidental benefit.
But, most importantly, continuous improvement isn’t about taking one-off measures. As its name suggests, it’s all about improvements on an ongoing basis, i.e. it’s a process.
What’s more, it encourages more personal initiative and greater self-reliance in the workplace, as staff suggest and implement improvements themselves.
How does it work?
We can split the process of continuous improvement into three steps:
- The first step involves generating and analyzing suggestions for improvement. This is the orientation phase in which you identify your organization’s core values and objectives, and link these to your customers’ needs and requirements. Next, you need to determine to what extent your current operational processes align with your ideal picture.
- The second step involves implementing the suggestions for improvement from Step 1. And don’t forget to involve as many stakeholders as possible – employees from various departments, suppliers, customers, etc.
- And the third step focuses on monitoring and learning. It’s also important to check whether the improvements you’ve implemented actually have the desired effect.
The more consistent you are, the more benefits continuous improvement provides. Processes also run more smoothly and more cost-effectively because throughput times decrease and become less error-prone. What’s more, you learn more about your customers, and your staff gain greater insights into your organization’s broader objectives. Ultimately, this will help your organization become more flexible and future-proof.
Continuous improvement also has a positive effect on employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity levels.
Popular continuous improvement methods
There are several ways to implement continuous improvement, either separately or in combination. Below, you’ll find five ideas to get you started:
Regular brainstorming sessions and/or think tanks help keep both individuals and organizations as a whole thinking about ways to make improvements.
They can also help bridge any existing divide between staff and management. Make sure that one or more members of the management team and shop floor supervisors always attend these sessions.
But what’s the best way to structure a brainstorming session or think tank? Start by drafting a list of topics you want to discuss and check these off one by one. This ensures meetings run more smoothly and productively.
When handling a particular issue, make sure you give each participant the opportunity to put forward their ideas or solutions. Next, evaluate, analyze, and discuss each solution to determine its viability or feasibility.
2. Surveys & polls
Many organizations focus exclusively on feedback from customers and suppliers but fail to ask for feedback from their own staff. Staff feedback is just as important! Survey and polls are great tools to uncover any bottlenecks or points for improvement.
Middle and senior management generally tend to look at the bigger picture, whereas staff on the shop floor often have a keener eye for the details that management tends to overlook.
3. Internal audits
Internal audits are a great way to improve your continuous improvement efforts! The main difference between an internal and an external audit is that someone within your organization conducts the internal audit. Internal audits focus systematically on one or more organizational processes.
They also provide insights into a number of issues. For example, are you complying with all relevant legislation and regulations? And are you meeting all quality standard requirements? What’s more, internal audits provide a fresh look at operational efficiency and process costs.
4. Training programs
In a fast-changing world, organizations and individuals can really only keep improving through lifelong learning. By providing targeted training programs, you help your staff expand their set of skills and competences and become more versatile. This is also of benefit in the event someone is off sick or away on vacation – having replacements readily available helps you safeguard your organization’s continuity.
Training also contributes to accelerated digitalization by automating repetitive tasks. The combination of digital training and automation allows any authorized individual to start up and manage a given process.
5. Skills management
Skills management also plays an important role in continuous improvement. You need to know what your staff can and can’t do if you want to focus on making improvements. By mapping your staff’s expertise and experience, you’ll gain far better insights into your continuous improvement efforts.
Having solid skills management procedures in place helps in other ways, too. It will help you:
- find replacements or extra manpower quickly and easily when someone is off ill, away on vacation, or during peak periods
- monitor staff/process progress more accurately
- identify key figures within your company
Using a spreadsheet to create skills matrices is a great first step, but anyone wanting to take a more professional approach should look closely at using special-purpose skills management software.
Why not read our article, How continuous improvement and skills management go hand in hand?
Continuous improvement is a must
Continuous improvement is no longer a luxury – it’s an absolute must. It ensures your organization can respond flexibly and rapidly to the ongoing need for digitalization, the rollercoaster ride of market developments, and ever-changing customer demands. Take full advantage of the tips we provided in this article and get to grips with continuous improvement!