Continuous Improvement Process for Increased Productivity
Is your organization experiencing growth due to big moves or changes, but you still feel like something is missing?
Do you still find it challenging when it comes to process execution and want to improve that as well?
The leadership team in most organizations is usually very focused on the big changes because they have a more significant impact on the organization.
What’s often forgotten about are these small incremental changes that influence daily problem-solving for employees.
If there is a means to solve those problems, it would make an immediate difference for the customer, the employees, and the organization.
Improvement contributed from every person, every process, every day makes the incremental improvements possible.
It is easier to spot these minor changes in the manufacturing industry during the production process but much harder to see in a service-based environment such as HR customer service, marketing, new product development, and any place that looks like a modern office.
This is what the continuous improvement process sets to achieve.
Continuous Improvement Process – Chapter Index
So, What Is Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)?
It is an ongoing process to improve and eliminate the root causes of problems to grow your business.
This simply put means organizations are constantly searching for ways to serve customers and clients in a better manner.
Usually, it involves making baby-step improvements rather than one gigantic innovation.
Why You Need a Continuous Improvement Process in Place
Most companies are advised to use the continuous improvement model as its basic tenets help them focus on growth and create a culture of improvement.
It is expected that a company with a vision should have an ongoing focus on incrementally improving its processes, products, or services.
This means that companies should focus on taking small developmental strides rather than breakthrough achievements.
Creating a culture of improvement means that everyone should be on the same page to achieve goals set by the organization.
Every employee, from the management to the security personnel, must be involved in the process.
Proper support structures of training, management, resource allocation, measurement, reward, and incentive systems must be in place for successful adoption.
For every step to be effective, it is advised to formulate goals with workers’ input, make them public, and record little achievements.
Continuous improvement is more of a ‘philosophy’ which organizations are based upon.
Benefits Of Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement manifests itself in several tangible benefits that any establishment would be thrilled to accomplish.
Some of these benefits include:
Improvement of Products and Services
Continuous improvement focuses on creating organizational and process changes to improve how the product or service is delivered.
Companies that follow the continuous improvement model are bound to see an increase in the value of their products or services. Their products or service will be more sought for.
Increased operational efficiency:
Employees often have excellent ideas to help move an organization forward, but a rigid structure shuts that down and kills motivation.
The continuous improvement model is designed to empower employees to solve problems that bother them and improve their work efficiency.
A company that employs the continuous improvement model will see an increase in efficiency, as employees will feel they are part of the process and will work collectively towards achieving the desired goal.
This change in roles of the employees makes them active participants in the business processes rather than passive ones.
A continuous improvement model challenges business owners and employees to expand their horizons and move beyond their comfort zone.
This model allows for flexibility and changes to improve to occur frequently. If a particular aspect of a process is not yielding the desired result, it can be reviewed.
An organization needs to move with the trend and change at certain times to meet the competition.
If employees are used to changing at regular times, they will be more motivated to develop fresh ideas and won’t be phased out of competition.
Speed to Market
Products and services of higher quality will automatically attract more sales. Organizations that apply CIP are more likely to align their products and services to latent customer values.
The thoroughly researched processes will lead to products and services that ‘foresee’ customers’ needs even before they are aware of the needs themselves.
Your business will also experience an increase in product per input, which eventually translates to higher profits.
Sustainability and Effectiveness
Continuous improvement gives organizations a model for reaching the next level of excellence.
These processes are well thought out to be sustainable and tried for a certain period.
An organization that practices continuous improvement is never satisfied with its current achievements and strives to gain more while maintaining effectiveness in its approaches.
This will finally make the company always be a step ahead of its competitors.
Other benefits include
- Cost savings
- Less waste, i.e., resources, time, money, etc.
- Decreased inventory levels and capital requirements
- Improved organizational learning and sharing of relevant knowledge
- Improved employee and culture engagement
- Shorter time-to-value creation and feedback loop
- Increased customer satisfaction
Everyone associates cost savings, increased operational efficiency, and less waste of time, resources, and money with continuous improvements.
These benefits help the bottom line of an establishment substantively.
But those who are much more interested in value creation and innovation will love these benefits: increased service/product quality, improved employee and culture engagement, and shorter time to value creation and feedback loop.
Therefore, the #1 key is to fully understand that continuous improvement helps enhance your top-line results – in addition to the bottom line – when you apply it correctly.
To some extent, this kind of continuous improvement is considered much more important for the long-term success of an organization than the straight-up efficiency and cost improvements.
After all, these are the specific types of improvements that keep producing enormous value for your target audience or market. This will also keep you relevant in the long run.
Continuous Improvement Process Vs. Continual Improvement Process – What’s the difference?
Both terms are used interchangeably and can sometimes be interpreted to mean the same thing.
However, there is a distinct difference between the two. Simply put, continual means start and stop, while continuous means never-ending.
Continual improvement means the approach is repeated and has breaks in between repetitions.
A continual has a phased system, whereby improvements will be made, there will be a pause and review of the steps taken and achievements made; after that, the process will continue.
However, in a continuous process, the flow is uninterrupted; it doesn’t stop. It’s a never-ending cycle. It is a sustained process of development and constantly seeks to make improvements.
Continuous improvements are linear, incremental improvements to an existing process.
Chapter 2: History of The Continuous Improvement Process
In lean management, continuous improvement is known as ‘kaizen’, which is a Japanese term. In Japanese, ‘kai’ means ‘change’, while ‘zen’ means ‘good’ (improvement).
Kaizen originated in Japan shortly after the Second World War. Following the defeat of Japan, America wanted to encourage the nation to rebuild. Therefore General MacArthur asked several leading experts from the United States to visit Japan and advise them on how to rebuild their country.
One of the experts sent was Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Deming was a statistician with experience in the census, so he came to Japan to set up a census.
While in Japan, he noticed some of the difficulties in some of the emerging industries. Many Japanese manufacturers were faced with enormous difficulties ranging from lack of funds, raw materials, components, and the low morale of the nation and workforce.
Having had experience in reducing waste in U.S war manufacture, he offered his advice in this direction.
He taught Japanese businesses to focus their attention on processes rather than results; concentrate the efforts of everyone in the organization on continually improving imperfection at every stage of the process.
By the 1970s, it became popular as the principle guiding the work frame of Japanese business culture.
Continuous improvement is a philosophy permeating the Japanese culture, which seeks to improve all factors of production on an ongoing basis.
It is an all-inclusive process involving everyone, from management to employees, in finding and eliminating waste in machinery, labor, materials, and production methods.
Companies such as Toyota that moved from a small carmaker to the largest automobile manufacturer globally are one of its greatest beneficiaries.
Best Time to Start a Continuous Improvement Process
There is no universally approved time or moment for starting a continuous improvement process.
However, the sooner you implement it, the better.
Nonetheless, there are a few advisable moments to implement a continuous improvement process. They include:
- When starting a new project, this is when implementing a continuous improvement process can be considered the best.
- This is so because all strengths and weaknesses have already been analyzed, and solutions to these problems have been highlighted.
- This will simplify your processes for starting your new project.
- Development of processes and procedures
- Developing a new or improved product or service
- Planning data collection and analysis
- Implementing any change to a process
- Whenever failure occurs
Typical Roles in The Continuous Improvement Process
There are several roles to be filled by everyone engaged in the continual improvement processes. These roles include:
The responsibilities under this role include educating others, involving stakeholders in supporting the improvements, implementation of continuous improvement, building and leading a core CI team, and so on.
Tracking processes, assisting in process training, and communicating process activities are all tasks under this role.
Identifying and discussing problems, measuring, sustaining, and improving upon solutions that fall under this role.
This role is tasked with tracking program success, coaching and providing feedback to organizations, selecting new leaders based on organization and improvement of cultural values, and so on.
This role is tasked with recognizing and rewarding efforts and is responsible for achieving the improvement goals.
These are the agencies, teams, and customers that product changes may impact.
Subject matter experts
They provide information with regard to specific topics and are invited to participate in selected activities.
They participate in almost all activities involved in continual planning and are also responsible for following up on action items after the event.
Continuous improvement is therefore not limited to just a few people in your organization. All hands must be on deck, working towards achieving a common goal.
Creating A Culture of Continuous Improvement
Deciding to adopt and implement a continuous process is one thing, creating a culture that will ensure its durability is another.
Practices like positive and transparent work culture have helped to shape the culture of organizations
Here are a few ways you can build a continuous improvement culture:
Begin with the end in mind
After adopting a strategy that suits your organization best, you need to set a target. Picture the results you wish to attain. The end goal should be attainable and realistic to motivate your team to stay focused.
Publicize the goal
Let your team members be aware of the goal that they are to work for. Feedback from your stakeholders will help you know whether you are on the right track or not.
Adopt habit creation processes
There is a need to continuously train and retrain your employees until their habits align with the organizational demands.
Infuse discipline among team members
Maintaining an improvement culture requires time, practice, dedication, effort, and most importantly, discipline.
Creating the right culture takes time, and if you are consistent with the effort, you should see the changes you need soon enough.
Now that you know how to create the right culture, what steps do you need to take to create an effective continuous improvement process?
Keep reading as we’ll cover that in the next section.
The Six Steps of The Continual Improvement Process
Continuous Improvement Process, also known as CIP, is any consistent or ongoing effort geared towards improving or developing products, services, or organizational processes.
This improvement process can be gradual or even in the form of a quantum leap.
Step #1: Assess the current situation
Before you decide to implement any organizational decision, you must first table your options, strengths, and weaknesses.
Then you can process to assess any areas that need improvement and identify the most appropriate process to be used for attaining that improvement.
Having identified an area of improvement, you must evaluate your organizational processes and select an issue or problem that is likely to pull you down.
Step #2: Identify the main problem
Problems are easily solved when they have been identified. Any problem, no matter how worthless it may seem, should not be overlooked.
Now that you have identified the problem impeding your organizational growth, you must analyze this problem to find the appropriate steps to put in place to rid your organization of such problems.
You must then put in place strategies that will ease your elimination of such problems so that it does not drag your organization down.
To diagnose the gap to be improved, you need to gather the correct information – oral or written, from surveys and research.
Step #3: Establish a target goal
Next, after eliminating the problem, you must plan. You must set goals that you intend to achieve.
These goals can be in the form of what products or services you wish to venture into, or what products and services your organization currently offers that you would love to improve on.
It can also be new organizational processes that you would like to adopt, improve or abolish, and so on.
You should mark these goals or post them where you can always remember them and then find a means to make these goals come true.
Step #4: Map out a strategy
Planning is arguably the most important tool in any organization. There has been no successful venture that attained such imminence without adequate, befitting, and implemented plans.
Next is to map out a strategy to improve the condition of things. How do you bring your plan to life?
When it comes to your strengths, you need strategies on how to improve or maintain them.
You can train your staff to offer better services or allow for games and activities that will boost your employee morale and encourage creativity, which will boost creativity.
For the weaknesses identified, you may adopt strategies such as venturing into new products or procuring better equipment or staff that will ease your workload.
If the problem you are facing is customer retention, you may consider reducing the price of your products. Offer bonuses and promos, offer post-sale services like installments, and so on.
If the solutions to your problems lie in purchasing new equipment or employing better staff, you must strategize on how to do so for the betterment of your organization.
Several organizational growth strategies are available and easily adaptable for the continual improvement of your organization.
Step #5: Measure effectiveness
Having selected a strategy you have researched, analyzed, and deemed fit to be the best solution to your challenges, you must first test its effectiveness before correctly or generally implementing it in your organization.
There are several methods through which effectiveness can be tested. They include:
- Questionnaires: questionnaires are printed questions about a company’s products or services presented to the public to provide their opinions on such products or services to collect data. Questionnaires can be written, printed, or even typed online.
- Market survey: a market survey is a research conducted to ascertain customer’s preferences or their response to a product or service.
- Free trials: certain products can be offered for free for a limited time and a limited group of people to ascertain their receptiveness.
- Beta testers: certain individuals can be contracted to be the first to use certain products or services to gather information on their effectiveness.
- Reviews: feedbacks, comments, and reviews from customers who have purchased your products or employed your services are a yardstick for measuring effectiveness.
- Employees can also be asked for their honest opinions or views about the company’s services, products, and organizational processes to measure the effectiveness of the organization’s efforts over time.
Step #6: Celebrate success
We have all come across the wise statement: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Employees are bound to lose motivation if they are always focused on work and more work.
When you have achieved a breakthrough during product or service development, or acquired more customers, or increased profit over time, employers should create time to celebrate the organization’s success.
Dinners, fun events, games, vacations, or work-free days can be implemented to boost the employees’ morale, teamwork, and lively working spirit.
Also, the employer must not forget to celebrate the individual successes and hard work of certain workers who have exerted their best for the organization.
Chapter 3: Continuous Improvement Process Models and Techniques
Continuous improvement process models and techniques are what enables organizations to achieve operational excellence.
It is also essential for those who pursue innovation and those looking to scale or create new businesses.
This means that continuous improvement processes are vital for every company looking to do better in its niche.
Therefore, if your organization has zero systematic or organized processes in place for continuous improvement, it is not too late to get started.
Here are models and techniques to help you as you begin your journey to the Continuous Improvement Process.
Business Process Mapping
A business process map – or flowchart – is a diagram used to visually represent why and how your processes exist.
When you outline a process utilizing a business mapping solution or chart in an automation tool, you can quickly identify or spot the steps that are not working as efficiently as you’d like.
This is when you can start applying continuous process improvements to make the necessary changes.
Many organizations fail to record all their processes, which may affect them in the long run.
You would also need to have good business process management software to make managing your processes more manageable.
Business process mapping is a pretty invaluable method of understanding precisely how your organization works so that you can share them with freshly introduced team members.
And it also helps to pinpoint opportunities for improvement.
This approach is unique and beautiful because it can be applied by any organization, irrespective of the industry, niche, or department.
You can easily apply Mapping and documenting processes to marketing, the automotive and medical sectors, service delivery, product manufacturing, and even internal business activities.
Business process mapping will provide a crystal-clear overview of what is involved. And you can choose to build on it with other viable methodologies.
The Deming Cycle refers to the systemic process aimed at significantly improving products or services via the gathering of learnings and knowledge.
The cycle comprises four stages: Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA).
The PDCA process originates from an early improvement model – i.e., Plan, Do, See – developed by Walter Shewhart, a statistician, in the 1920s.
William Edwards Deming, a business consultant and statistician himself, worked on the scientific model in the 1950s and 1980s. He is said to have collaborated – much later on – with the Japanese manufacturing industry.
In the 1950s, Deming showcased the revised Shewhart’s cycle in Japan. He stated the importance of the four major steps: design, production, sales, and research.
The version used today – i.e., the PDCA cycle – was coined by the Japanese, who reworked it and easily translated it into the following steps:
- Plan: Define a specific problem and create several hypotheses for causes and solutions.
- Do: Implement a definite solution
- Check: Evaluate
- Act: Return to the planning stage if the outcome is not favorable or desired. But if results are highly satisfactory, they should be scaled.
The ‘Planning’ stage is also divided into three steps:
- Identify a problem
- Analyze the problem
- Develop/think of viable solutions
The Tokyo Institute for Technology also worked on the PDCA cycle. And this – along with quality control principles and up to 7 essential tools – led to the formation of the basis for the Kaizen improvement process.
The PDCA – or Deming Cycle – process can be applied in several cases and across different organizations and industries:
- Boost business processes or develop brand-new ones
- Use the process to boost productivity via performance management
- Use the process to enforce quality management. This continuous cycle gives room for deep measurement and analysis. Spotting the cause of a problem swiftly enables prioritization
- Carry out a trial to test any hypothesis. Scale and standardize the outcome if they show that you are on the right track. But if the result is not the desired one, you may have to go back to the drawing board. Develop another test and start over.
- Manage change efficiently
- Use the cycle as a support for the Kaizen process.
Value Stream Mapping
Value Stream Mapping refers to the lean tool that utilizes a flowchart that documents each step in the process.
Several lean practitioners see Value Stream Mapping as a fundamental means to reduce waste cycle time, readily identify waste, and implement process improvement.
Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a workplace efficiency medium primarily designed to combine every material processing step with information flow and other crucial related data.
This is a vital Lean tool for an establishment to plan, implement, and considerably improve while on its Lean journey.
Value Stream Mapping helps users adequately create a pretty solid implementation plan that will significantly maximize the resources available to them and helps ensure that time and materials are efficiently used.
Defining value and customers in lean thinking is vital. Every waste that doesn’t add any value whatsoever to the customer in business processes should be eradicated.
Several methods can be deployed to enhance processes and eliminate waste, and Value Stream Mapping is one such method.
Using the Value Stream Mapping method has several advantages:
- VSM provides visuality to users, thanks to symbolic representation
- It ensures that analyzed processes are handled from beginning to end
- VSM includes several application steps as well as an implementation plan for continuous improvement
- It reveals the close relationship between material flow and information flow
- VSM gets hold of the identity of resources that cause waste during processes.
Additionally, the Value Stream Mapping method readily determines the system’s takt time, lead time, and cycle times. This helps to reveal the overall results of improvements in the future state map.
Here is the brief definition of the terms shared in the previous paragraph:
- Takt time: This is the speed at which services or goods must be produced to meet the customer’s demand. Takt time is calculated when you divide the daily production time by daily customer demand.
- Lead time: Lead time – in days – is usually calculated by dividing the number of inventories between the processing steps into the daily demand.
- Cycle time: This is generally expressed as the maximum time spent on a single unit in each station. It is calculated using a simple formula: 1/output rate per hour (in units).
In simple terms, Value Stream Mapping helps establishments visually represent the customers’ perception of a specific business process. This helps to pinpoint the value of a process, product, or service to the company. It is focused on being as lean as possible, eliminates redundancy and wastes.
Lean and Continuous Improvement
Lean is a systematic or organized approach to eliminate or reduce activities that do not add value to the process.
It substantially emphasizes the removal of wasteful steps within a process and only takes actions that add value.
This Lean method ensures high quality as well as customer satisfaction.
The Lean method helps in:
- Improving service or product delivery time
- Minimizing process cycle time
- Reducing inventory levels
- Eliminating or reducing the chance of defect generation
- Efficiently optimizing resources for vital improvements, etc.
In other words, a Lean method is an unending approach to removing waste, thereby promoting an endless chain of improvements.
Perceived value is related to a customer’s overall perception of the service or product they are willing to pay for.
A process is a sequence or series of activities that convert inputs into outputs using several resources. Activities – in a process – can be classified into three distinct types:
This refers to essential activities that add value to the entire process. They considerably improve processes for quality and productivity.
This refers to activities that don’t add any value whatsoever to the process.
These activities generally form the wasteful steps within the process. And no customer willingly pays for any costs linked with these activities.
They are known to cause customer dissatisfaction if these activities are excessively present.
Enabling value-added activity
This refers to activities that don’t add value to any customer. However, they are vital for the continuity of entire processes.
In most processes, up to 85 percent of activities are usually non-value-adding activities.
The primary objective of the Lean method or approach is to readily spot these zero value-adding activities within a process.
And then use specific Lean tools to reduce or eliminate them. In other words, the Lean approach significantly enhances process efficiency.
The following are the five principles of the Lean approach that help to minimize waste:
1. Identify your customers and what they perceive as highly valuable.
The customer has exclusive rights to define the value of a service or product.
Therefore, the first step is to identify your customers. What do customers value? You may need to brainstorm to figure out your customers’ expectations, especially regarding your services or products.
Classify every process activity into Value-added, Non-Value added, and Enabling Value-added.
2. Map the value stream.
The value stream mapping highlights the workflow process steps for a service or product. It also helps to spot and do away with non-value-added activities.
This will eventually enable you to minimize process delays, thereby boosting the quality of services or products.
3. Create flow.
Create a seamless flow to the customer. The only way to do this is by ensuring continuous flow systems in producing services or products.
The flow will readily optimize the process to maximize process efficiency.
4. Establish pull.
This approach helps you to meet system beat time. The beat time refers to the rate at which a product – or service – must be ready to meet the customer’s demand.
Just In Time (JIT) is a tool used for promoting the Pull system. This ensures the seamless workflow of the process with zero interruptions. This approach also helps to lessen inventory levels.
5. Seek continuous improvement.
Do your best consistently to boost existing business processes to cater to customers’ dynamic needs. This ensures the total eradication of wastes and defects.
Customers will only have access to top-notch products and services at all times.
In the following paragraphs, you will discover several crucial Lean tools that you can utilize in your organization to streamline processes.
Kaizen sprang up in Japan almost immediately after the Second World War came to an end. And it started gaining massive popularity in the business world.
It served as one of Toyota’s foundations and was instrumental in moving the company from a lowly car manufacturer to undoubtedly the largest automobile manufacturer on planet Earth.
Kaizen is a Lean manufacturing tool that substantially boosts productivity, quality, workplace culture, and safety.
This tool focuses primarily on applying small and daily changes that lead to substantial improvements over time.
Kaizen – derived from 2 Japanese words: Kai (improvement) and Zen (good). This translates automatically to ‘continuous improvement.’
When applied to the business world, Kaizen has to do with the numerous activities that endlessly enhance every function within an organization.
This involves every employee in the company, right from the chief executive officer to the assembly line workers.
The major strength of Kaizen originates from having every employee participate and proffer solutions to improve the business significantly.
The primary purpose goes way beyond effortless productivity improvement.
When applied the right way, Kaizen eradicates backbreaking work, humanizes the workplace, and teaches individuals precisely how to identify and readily neutralize wastes within business processes.
The Kaizen philosophy states that our way of life deserves to be improved constantly. This includes our social life, working life, and even our home life.
Kaizen is all about achieving measurable improvements by taking those small baby steps instead of rigorous, drastic changes.
Improvements under Kaizen may be incremental and small, and the entire process results in spectacular results over time.
Moreover, Kaizen is an inexpensive, low-risk approach involving process improvements that don’t require a considerable capital investment. And this makes it easy for employees to try out new ideas.
If a particular doesn’t work, they can always undergo reversion without necessarily incurring substantial costs.
The Kaizen process is an activity with up to 6 phases:
- Identify an opportunity or problem
- Analyze or examine the process
- Develop highly optimal solutions
- Rapidly implement the new solution
- Study the outcome or results and make adjustments where necessary
- Systemize the solution
The benefits of Kaizen are numerous, but one stands out: it engenders ownership and teamwork.
Teams become responsible for their work and can make improvements to boost their working experience.
Most individuals want to be proud of the work they do – and be successful in it. Kaizen helps them achieve these dreams while considerably benefiting the organization.
The 5s Strategy
The 5s Strategy or framework is not a continuous improvement process or cycle. This organizational framework is designed to reduce waste as it focuses solely on human resources exclusively.
The 5s Strategy is part of the Lean management methods but strictly follows the Kaizen principles.
Combining these two helps to systemize work and reduce waste. And this, in turn, contributes considerably to employees’ satisfaction.
If employees are less stressed, they will focus more on areas where they need results.
Here’s how the 5s Strategy looks like:
- Seiri (Sort): Get rid of all unnecessary items and create a streamlined working area.
- Seiton (Set in order): Minimize time waste by setting everything in order and ensuring everything is available to every individual.
- Seiso (Shine): This refers to the vital importance of keeping everything clean and in order.
- Seiketsu (Standardize): This has to do with the consistent approach needed to facilitate understanding.
- Shitsuki (Sustain): This refers to the discipline required to the steps mentioned earlier and all established changes.
By now, you already know that the 5s framework is designed for factory floors or physical workplaces, to be precise.
However, these principles hold for the modern workplace, comprising part virtual and part physical.
The key is to focus exclusively on making or ensuring the workplace stays orderly and clean.
And this implies doing away with every unnecessary thing and ensuring that everything is well-maintained and laid out clearly.
You also need to standardize all practices and teach all employees sustenance practices.
Total Quality Management
Total Quality Management predates Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. It gained a lot of attention during the late ’80s when the United States Federal Government started using it.
Considerable success usually results from customer satisfaction using this system. And as with Six Sigma, Total Quality Management varies from one organization to another.
But establishments that use Total Quality Management typically follow these principles:
- Customers get to determine the overall level of quality
- Companies should follow a systematic and strategic approach to accomplish their goals.
- Every worker contributes towards achieving common goals. Adequate training and communication ensure that all employees are on the same page as they understand the definition of high quality and strive to attain it.
- Businesses should readily define the necessary steps for any process and closely monitor performance to detect deviations. They should always look for new or innovative ways to be more competitive and more effective.
- Data-based decision making
Measurements for quality generally depend on the organization in question. However, a few only uses established standards such as the ISO 9000 series, etc.
Total Quality Management organizations use several different diagrams for troubleshooting quality issues.
The United States Navy instituted the original Total Quality Management plan and used up to 7 tools to measure quality.
This includes check sheets, flowcharts, the Ishikawa diagrams, etc.
Six Sigma is the widely recognized Lean in business version. This continuous improvement model focuses primarily on boosting predictability and eradicating variability within organizations.
The goals of Six Sigma include achieving predictable and stable process results via measurable, clearly defined processes and a commitment to sustained quality improvement.
Six Sigma is a data-driven and highly disciplined approach to continuous improvement. It utilizes a set of superior management methods rooted deeply in statistical analysis.
And it relies heavily on an infrastructure of well-trained individuals within the establishment who are conversant with these methods to see them through.
Six Sigma specialists may have to put in some effort and work their way through a serialized set of certifications.
Every role has specific responsibilities, implying that success with Six Sigma relies greatly on filling each position by a qualified professional.
Six Sigma is a highly structured continuous improvement model with certification programs, statistical tools, responsibilities, and defined roles.
It is perfect for businesses or establishments that are already well planned and structured corporately.
Root Cause Analysis (RCA)
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) refers to a specific problem-solving method that aims at pinpointing the root cause or source of incidents or problems.
Root Cause Analysis is primarily based on one principle: problems can best be figured out or solved by correcting their sources.
This is opposed to other methods that only focus on tackling the symptoms caused by problems or treat the symptoms.
Via corrective actions, underlying causes of problems are typically addressed so that the chances that the situation will repeat itself are considerably minimized.
Of course, it is impractical to think or believe that one corrective action will substantially prevent the recurrence of a problem.
This is the primary reason why Root Cause Analysis is generally considered an iterative process.
Root Cause Analyses – along with incident investigations and other problem-solving methods – are typically linked to these three questions:
- What is the problem currently?
- Why does this particular problem occur?
- What can be done to prevent the recurrence of this problem?
Root Cause Analysis is a tool used for continuous improvement. Root Cause Analysis can be a reactive way to identify and solve problems when used for the first time.
This implies that an analysis has been carried out after an incident or problem has occurred.
Root Cause Analysis can be used proactively, enabling users to anticipate problems before they occur. And this is applied in real-life in the following areas:
- Information technology
- Safety and health
Applying Lean Kanban
To ceaselessly enhance your process, it is essential to visualize what you need to improve.
If there is zero visibility, you may still be able to improve now and again. But you will be unable to spot or identify the symptoms of a problem until it becomes too late.
At a time in the company’s history, Toyota sought a way to spot problem symptoms early on.
And it developed Kanban as the system to deploy for enhancing the workflow efficiency of its entire production process.
After some time, Kanban was creatively adapted for knowledge work and succeeded in helping thousands of various teams to accomplish continuous improvement.
This method relies heavily on six core practices for significantly reducing wastes in your process. Here they are:
- Manage flow
- Eradicate interruptions
- Create feedback loops
- Visualize your workflow
- Modify process policies definite or explicit
- Improve or modify collaboratively
Let’s take a look at a few of these core practices that Kanban relies on:
You can manage the flow in your work process using Kanban. But to ensure an even or regular operation, you should be mindful of where your work gets stuck.
Then you need to take the necessary action that will help to minimize all the bottlenecks in the process.
You can use different steps within your workflow as an experiment to determine which one works best. And then continue taking steps to improve from time to time.
Continuous improvement is considered a group activity in Lean management.
This is why you must ensure that every team member fully understands the common objective and why their respective contribution is a crucial part of the process.
When it comes to eradicating interruptions, Kanban relies heavily on simultaneously limiting the work that is in progress.
The primary goal is to do away with multitasking as much as possible. This is a constant context switch between several assignments and can do nothing but harm productivity.
If you take a close look at the Kanban board itself, you will notice that it is an excellent feedback loop generator since it makes it visible for anyone to see who is doing what at any time.
You can continuously enhance information sharing between members of your team. This can be combined with the widely adopted exercise of engaging in daily stand-up meetings with the team.
To visualize your workflow, this method relies heavily on whiteboards for mapping each step of the entire process.
The board can be divided with vertical lines that form columns that depict different stages.
You can create a basic Kanban board that consists of 3 columns:
- In Progress
Every task your team is working on can be hosted on a Kanban card – which is initially like a post-it note – and must pass through every stage of your workflow. This is the only way those tasks can be considered complete.
Kanban boards generally allow you to keep track of your process’s evenness.
The boards highlight the amount of work every team member needs to do, reducing overwhelm.
This allows workers to efficiently delegate tasks according to your team’s capacity.
And lastly, you can track the pace at which the work progresses across your workflow and continuously improve your entire workflow efficiency.
When you make process policies definite or explicit, you end up encouraging the members of your team to take on more responsibility and assume ownership of their process.
However, positive changes can only happen if there is a consistent flow of knowledge between you and your team.
Chapter 4: 15 Principles of The Continuous Improvement Model
Several principles serve as the dos and don’ts of every organization. These principles can either make or break an organization.
In other words, they can help your organization reach the peak of growth, or they can impede your efforts towards organizational growth and development.
Below are 15 of these principles:
1. Challenge the status quo
Most employees resign to the usual processes of doing things in the organization. They always resort to the traditional method to avoid the effort and stress of exploring other options.
However, organizations that exert effort into discovering new methods for carrying out their tasks are usually more progressive.
2. Think progress
Always try to think of how to simplify your workload and that of others. Progressive thinking is “how do I make this work easier for myself and others?” “Do I have all the required equipment to perform my task?”
3. Engage your employees
Engage your employees in decision-making. Ask for their opinions and ideas and utilize them to suit your plans and improve your organizational processes.
4. Simplify your processes
People are more likely to actively and consistently engage in work that they find convenient than complicated work that will be time and energy-consuming. Adopt simple processes that will keep your employees motivated.
5. Forget the what-ifs
Focus on your essential processes. Your activities account for about 90 percent of your entire organization. Allowing yourself to get sidelined by what-ifs would only hinder your progress.
6. Less talk, more work
Do not talk too much about what you want to do; take action! Create a plan, employ someone to take action, and make progress!
7. Carry everyone along
Progress requires discipline. Make time for your employees, answer their questions, train them and document your processes.
8. Stay focused
Do not be a jack of all trades; focus on improving your current processes and infrastructure instead of purchasing more tools.
Make your workers take responsibility for their actions and improvements in their specified areas.
10. Compare products
Find the dividing points between good and bad products and use your research to create better products.
11. Shift and Squeeze
Think of what issues caused a shift in your processes and develop variations to squeeze them out of your processes.
12. The 6Ms and eight forms of waste
- Causes of variations – Man, Machine, Material, Method, Measurement, and Mother Nature.
- Forms of waste – Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Over-processing, Defects, and Skills.
Document your findings and improvements so you can resort to them in the future.
14. Minimize costs
Implement the most cost-effective solutions and develop or combine alternatives for better results.
15. Think and act
Improvement can be maintained through constant planning and acting on such plans. Always improve on waste elimination and variation reduction in your processes.
Chapter 5: 19 Tools for Assessing and Monitoring Continuous Improvement Process
Tool #1: Benchmarking
Benchmarking refers to the process of comparing one’s business performance metrics and process to best practices from other industries or even industry bests.
It is one of the most valuable continuous process improvement tools for business owners or program managers.
It helps you determine if any processes or areas within their program can be significantly improved by precisely understanding how they compare with other establishments.
The typical performance metrics employed are time, quality, as well as cost.
Benchmarking can be broken down into 4 phases, namely:
- Planning Phase
- Data Collection and Analysis Phase
- Integration Phase
- Implementation Phase
Tool #2: Force Field Analysis
An FFA (Force Field Analysis) is a concept developed in 1943 by Kurt Lewin to analyze situations.
It provides a standard framework for looking at the forces (factors) that readily influence a particular situation.
FFA looks at factors blocking movements (hindering forces) towards a particular goal or driving movement (helping forces) towards a specific purpose.
Supervisors and Program Managers use an FFA to determine how best to approach a specific situation. It can reduce the impact of opposition to a decision and strengthen the forces supporting it.
The three steps to the Force Field Analysis includes:
- Describing your proposal or plan for change in the middle
- Listing all factors for change in one column as well as all factors against change in another column
- Assigning a score to each factor, starting from 1 (weak) to 5 (strong)
Tool #3: Flowcharts
Flowcharts easily describe processes graphically, providing as many details as possible. The diagram displays every step in proper sequence.
A well-detailed flowchart should highlight all the process steps under analysis by the quality continuous improvement team.
It should pinpoint vital process points for control, suggest areas for improvement, and help communicate and solve the problem.
Flowcharts can be simple or very complex, i.e., they can be made up of several symbols, boxes, and directional steps.
The more complex versions usually indicate all the process steps in the proper sequence, the conditions within those steps, and the related constraints using elements such as ‘Yes/No’ choices, ‘If/Then’ statements or arrows.
Tool #4: Affinity Diagram
Affinity diagrams are typically used for organizing large numbers of ideas for analysis and review.
This excellent tool for assessing and monitoring improvement processes helps organize enormous amounts of data and ideas into meaningful groups by finding relationships between ideas.
Affinity diagrams make data easier to analyze and review. Jiro Kawakita, a Japanese anthropologist, developed it.
This is why it is sometimes referred to as the ‘KJ method.’
Tool #5: Delphi Technique
This is a multi-step method for estimating the future demand for a service or product.
A special group of experts – in Risk/Cost/Schedule – forecast and exchange views and then individually submit assumptions and estimates to an analyst.
The analyst reviews every data received and issues a report that summarizes everything.
The summary report is discussed and reviewed individually by the group members, who submit revised forecasts to the analyst.
The analyst, once again, reviews the material and issues another summary report. This process continues unchecked until every participant reaches a common ground.
The Delph technique is beneficial to organizations, especially when other methods are not appropriate or accurate for data collection.
This technique is commonly used extensively in Risk Management.
Tool #6: Pareto Chart
The Pareto chart/diagram is named after a 19th-century Italian economist known as Vilfredo Pareto.
The economist postulated that a tiny percentage of the population owns a considerable share of wealth.
This is a pretty basic principle that translates surprisingly well into quality problems.
The majority of quality problems encountered in several organizations today originate from a small number of causes.
Quality specialists generally refer to the Pareto principle as the ’80-20′ rule; i.e., up to 80 percent of problems are usually caused by 20 percent of potential sources.
A Pareto chart/diagram typically places data in hierarchical order, which allows the most substantial problems to be the first to be corrected.
This Pareto analysis technique is primarily used to easily spot and evaluate all nonconformities, even though it can summarize every type of data.
It is the chart that is most often used in management presentations.
To create a Pareto chart, the operator needs to collect lots of random data.
And then regroup the categories according to frequency and create a bar graph based on the results.
Tool #7: Cause and Effect 8-Diagram
The cause-and-effect diagram is sometimes referred to as an Ishikawa diagram since the Japanese expert invented it. It is also called a fishbone diagram as a result of its shape.
An Ishikawa diagram accurately describes the relationship between variables. Undesirable outcomes are shown as ‘effect,’ and related causes are shown as potentially leading to – or leading to – the said effect.
However, this top-rated tool for assessing and monitoring the continuous improvement process has one major limitation: users or operators can overlook complex but vital interactions between causes.
Therefore, if a combination of factors generates a problem or an issue, it becomes pretty tricky to use this innovative tool to depict and then solve it.
The cause-and-effect diagram discloses every contributing factor and their relationships to the outcome to pinpoint areas where data or information should be collected and then analyzed.
The primary areas of potential causes are generally depicted as the prominent bones, i.e., methods, materials, measurement, people, machines, and design. The thorough examination of every cause can easily do away with causes one by one. The most likely root cause can easily be selected for corrective action.
Quantitative data can be utilized to prioritize means for improvement, whether it be operator, design, or machine.
Tool #8: Scatter Diagram
A scatter diagram showcases the relationship between 2 variables, which is then used to test for the cause-and-effect relationships.
But it may not be capable of proving that one variable causes a change in the other. What the diagram can confirm is that a relationship exists as well as how strong the relationship is.
When looking at a scatter diagram, the vertical (y) axis represents the measurement values of one variable while the horizontal (x) axis represents the measurement values of the other variable.
Tool #9: Check Sheet
Check sheets are designed to assist in organizing data by category. They depict how many times every specific value occurs, and the information obtained is increasingly valuable as more data are compiled.
For this charted tool to be appropriately utilized, over 50 observations should be available.
Check sheets easily minimize clerical work since all the operator has to do is add a mark to the tally on the already-prepared sheet instead of writing out a figure.
By revealing the frequency of a specific defect – e.g., in a molded component – and how often this occurs within a particular location, check sheets assist operators in readily identifying problems.
There is a list of molded component defects on a production line that covers up to a week. The check sheet will quickly reveal precisely where priorities have to be set based on the indicated results.
If the production flow is the same every day, the component with the most significant number of defects will carry the highest priority for correction.
Tool #10: Control Chart
A control chart readily showcases statistically determined lower and upper limits drawn on both sides of a process average.
The chart indicates if the collected data are within the lower and upper limits previously specified via the statistical calculations of raw data obtained from earlier trials.
Constructing a control chart is based primarily on statistical distributions and principles, especially the normal distribution.
When you use this alongside a manufacturing process, this chart can easily highlight trends and easily signal when a process goes out of control.
The centerline of control charts represents an overall estimate of the process mean; the lower and upper critical limits are also showcased.
The process results are then monitored from time to time should always remain within the control limits.
If the process results are not within the control limits, an investigation will be carried out immediately to find the causes so that corrective action steps can be undertaken.
Control charts readily help determine variability so that it can be significantly reduced as much as possible. It should also be economically capable of being justified.
When preparing a control chart, the lower control limit (LCL) and the upper control limit (UCL) of an approved process, as well as its data, are readily calculated.
The operator creates a blank control chart with LCL with no data points and average UCL. Data points are then added as they are calculated statistically from the raw data.
Tool #11: Process Capability
Process capability refers to a statistical measure of the inherent process variability of a given attribute or characteristic. Operators can use process capability study to assess the ability of a particular process to meet some specifications.
During a quality improvement initiative, a capability estimate is usually obtained at the start and end of the study to reflect the level of improvement.
Some capability estimates used extensively include:
- Potential capability and actual capability during production
- ‘Sigma,’ a capability estimate that is generally used with attribute data
Tool #12: ISO 14000
ISO 14000 refers to an entity of standards for the design, implementation, and optimization of an EMS (environmental management system for organizations and businesses).
This family was developed due to an increasing need for policies and standard operating procedures for businesses to build their own EMS.
‘ISO’ – ‘International Organization of Standardization – is the body primarily responsible for implementing and establishing numerous standards across various industrial, proprietary, and commercial applications.
There are currently 11,000 existing ISO standards, with 350 related to EMS, though not all are ISO 14000.
The ‘14000’ number is an identifier that refers to the broad family of EMS standards: ISO 14000. It refers to the criteria for setting up and maintaining an environmental management system.
More than 300,000 businesses and organizations in up to 171 countries globally are certified to an ISO 14000 standard.
According to the ISO 14000, the six core elements of an environmental management standard include:
- Environmental policy
- Study and correction
- Management review
- Continuous improvement
Tool #13: Ideation and Think Tanks
The benefits that come with initiating ideation and regular think tanks in your organization are numerous. This is a tool that you can choose to run at any time.
For instance, you can decide to run think tanks with a particular agenda in mind.
You can also do the same to evoke the quick attendance of important personnel so that you can discuss valuable ideas.
During the ideation and think tank sessions, you can precisely highlight how processes are run to see or discover places that need to be changed or significantly improved.
Technology intertwines so many business processes these days. This is why an excellent starting point is to talk about new technology solutions and updates primarily geared towards optimization.
For instance, it is becoming increasingly necessary to implement automation solutions in processes to remain highly competitive in the market.
Tool #14: Surveys and Polls
Surveys and polls are tools that you can also use for assessing and monitoring continuous improvement processes in your organization.
The truth is that those who work in your company are well-versed when it comes to identifying precisely where improvements need to be made.
It is vitally – and equally – essential to gain feedback from vendors and customers. But what most organizations overlook is the importance of getting employee feedback.
This is super important since these employees are nearly always directly involved in the day-to-day process that occurs within the organization.
When you poll your employees or team, you can discover their pain points and look keenly for places for significant improvement.
A business leader should spend their time on the big picture, no doubt. However, the more minor details that will substantially affect your company’s output should not go unnoticed without such relevant insight.
Tool #15: Monthly Training
It is common practice for every employee to work within a swim lane or silo in big organizations.
But what many business leaders don’t know or regard is that automation software and cross-training can contribute substantially to process improvement.
For instance, let’s say you set up a program where your employees get trained to conveniently and expertly handle multiple tasks or jobs.
If any employee fails to show up at work due to an accident, sickness, or other unforeseen circumstance – generally beyond one’s control – a process will remain unharmed.
Another excellent idea is implementing automation tools within your company designed to minimize overall dependency on key personnel.
Several automation tools exist today which store more than a few processes within the system.
Anyone that has access to the system can efficiently and virtually run the entire process. And as this stored process automatically runs, the system – without much difficulty – documents the steps it is taking or following to generate its output.
Tool #16: Time Audits
One of the major – and highly significant – resources that get wasted within an organization is time.
The ability to accurately gauge and measure just how much time a process takes on behalf of employees can provide relevant insight into precisely where you need to optimize a process.
And implementing this is as simple as making use of software to time a particular process.
You can then conveniently analyze precisely how long it takes a process to start and end with the needed output. And then start finding ways to do away with any wasted period.
This could occur by reducing touchpoints, automating approvals, etc., thereby preventing delays and bottlenecks.
Tool #17: Catch Ball
It is infrequent for a single individual or employee to start and complete several processes in most organizations. This means that someone has to be responsible for each process.
This individual will be primarily responsible for the process’s execution, even though it may require several inputs and the assistance of multiple persons.
Catchball refers to a specific method of continuous improvement requiring the individual who initiated a particular process to promptly state its purpose, concerns, etc., to every other person involved in clear terms.
This way, every person involved in this process can throw it out to the entire group for ideas and feedback for continuous improvement.
However, that single person remains primarily responsible for the completion of the process.
Tool #18: Histogram
The histogram generally plots data in a frequency distribution table. However, what distinguishes a check sheet from a histogram is that the latter’s data is grouped in rows such that the identity of the individual values gets lost.
Histograms are often used to demonstrate quality improvement data and usually work best only with small amounts of data that considerably vary.
When histograms are used in process capability studies, they can readily showcase specification limits that reveal what portion of the data doesn’t meet the specifications.
After collecting the raw data, they are grouped in frequency and value and then plotted in a graphical form.
The shape of a histogram reveals the nature of the distribution of the data and variability, and central tendency (average).
Specification limits can be utilized to display the capability of the entire process.
Tool #19: Gemba walks
Gemba – which translates roughly to ‘The Real Place’ in Japanese – is another excellent continuous process improvement tool. It acts as a very elegant summary of this remarkable technique.
Gemba Walks involve supervisors and managers traveling to actual plants to observe opportunities for significant improvement in the workplace.
The walks allow face-to-face interaction – while bridging the gap in management levels – with those who have the best knowledge of how a real-life factory operates.
Learning to correct several small inefficiencies allows an organization to enjoy far less capital loss over time.
But then, making Gemba Walks an effective tool for the continuous improvement process has to be done with care.
This involves making enough time to visit the plant or factory on different days of the week and different hours to observe worker behavior changes with time.
It is also vitally important to not ask leading questions of factory workers but always leave assumptions at the door. This ensures accurate and honest responses are received and processed.
The surest way to defeat innovation is to believe that the way dictated by the organization is always the perfect way.
Chapter 6: How SweetProcess Can Transform Your Continuous Improvement Process Strategy
The growth of an organization or business is closely related to the processes put in place and how effective they have been.
You cannot have a static process that will be ongoing forever; you would have to keep improving to make it better.
When you have these processes appropriately documented, you will quickly pinpoint and add improvements to your processes while carrying everyone involved along.
One great tool for documenting your processes is the SweetProcess platform that allows you to document processes, procedures, and tasks in one place so you can stay focused on growing your business.
The CEO of XL.net had over 2000 processes within his business operation, and he soon realized that the processes were becoming overwhelming for the employees.
He tried out SweetProcess based on the recommendation of a previous user to organize and eliminate clutter from his process.
The company now enjoys:
- A seamless documentation process
- Quality assurance maintenance
- Employee learning and empowerment
- Simplified adaptability and operation
Another great company that has transformed its payroll delivery and employee performance using the SweetProcess platform is the 3rd Arm Admin.
The practice manager Candice Burgess was saddled with the responsibility of enhancing the organization’s operations.
She didn’t waste time hopping on to the SweetProcess platform and in no time. They could boast of having:
- Seamless documentation,
- Remote access to documents
- Reference guide for workers
If you are unsure about going all in, you can get started with the 14-day free trial to see SweetProcess live in action.
Stephanie Chavez is yet another user who has experienced the transformation that comes with using SweetProcess.
As the chief marketing officer at Zen Media, she was determined to enhance their operation.
She needed an excellent workflow tool to capture their processes and discovered SweetProcess.
She heard about the power of SweetProcess from a marketing class she attended on LinkedIn.
She has since embraced SweetProcess for
- Employee onboarding and training
- Quality control and assurance
- Standard knowledge base
With SweetProcess, she was able to streamline business operations at Zen Media, which helped them scale up faster.
You can also take advantage of the SweetProcess platform to help you improve and grow.
Get started with the 14-day free trial to test things out.
When you document your processes, it becomes easier to run a continuous improvement process to help you grow while maintaining your set standards.
By applying continuous improvement, organizations encourage their employees to continuously improve their skills and gain knowledge relevant to their work.
This can be achieved by developing new competencies and thinking ahead.
Employees feel like they are a valuable part of the bigger whole, not just a cog in the machine that can move forward with or without their contribution.
An employee can stop the process at any time they feel there’s a problem.
The core of this approach is to deliver quality products and services.
Download our Continuous Improvement Process Evaluation Checklist here, and then sign up for a 14-day free trial of SweetProcess here!