What Continuous Improvement Is and How to Use It to Optimize Your Processes

What Continuous Improvement Is and How to Use It to Optimize Your Processes

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The British cycling team was the worst cycling team in history.

There was nothing “great” about this team.

They were so bad that they hadn’t come within two inches of winning a single medal in a century, both at the Olympics, and in cycling’s biggest race—the Tour de France.

Top bike sellers wouldn’t even sell bikes to this underdog team to avoid being associated with it.

But someone came along and changed things.

What did he change? What did he do differently?

And how is the transformation of this team relevant to this discussion of continuous improvement?

We’ll find out shortly.

Continuous improvement didn’t even start with this team. Its genesis stretches all the way back to the 1950s with a small ambitious family company in the budding Japanese economy.

Pioneering and implementing continuous improvement techniques, they went from being an obscure automotive company to the world’s largest manufacturer of cars, dwarfing the output of their German and English competitors, including automakers that pioneered the automobile.

In this no-frills ultimate guide, we’ll show you what continuous improvement is…

…how some successful businesses have leveraged continuous improvement…

…and how you can use continuous improvement principles to revolutionize your business.

But first, some history.

The Coach Who Changed the Face of British Cycling

The Coach Who Changed the Face of British Cycling

The aggregation of marginal gains, he called it.

After enduring over a century of mediocrity, Dave Brailsford, along with other coaches, was tasked with improving the underwhelming performance of the British cycling team. He aptly dubbed his strategy “the aggregation of marginal gains.”

Its guiding philosophy was simple: search for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do and then improve it slightly.

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together,” said Brailsford.

And that was exactly what he did for the British cycling team.

With the program, they made adjustments from bike seats to bike tires. They provided riders with electrically heated shorts that helped maintain optimal muscle temperatures. They then used biofeedback monitors to monitor each athlete’s response to various workouts.

In addition, they tested various fabrics and chose only those that proved to be lighter and more aerodynamic.

Jamie Staff was scheduled to go first in the event. He started out with his time between 17.4 and 17.5 seconds for one lap. The world record (at the time) was 17.3 seconds. He set his goal at 17.0 seconds and worked out the percentage he needed to improve; by his calculations, 2.78 percent.

He then set out to improve every factor that influenced his performance by 2.78 percent. He aimed to slash his body fat by 2.78 percent. In the gym, he worked to top his personal best in the squat (530 pounds) by 2.78 percent. 

By the Olympic games in 2008, Staff’s thighs were so thick his wife’s skirts fit snugly around one of them. He worked with nutritionists, psychologists and sprint coaches, trained in a wind tunnel, and tested recovery drinks developed specifically for cyclists.

He was focused on the small things.

“When you break it down, it’s actually really small gains in all those small things that when added together make a huge difference,” Staff said.

The British Cycling team went on to dominate the road and track cycling events at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, winning 60 percent of the available medals.

At the London Olympic games, four years later, they set nine (!) Olympic records and seven world records.

Later, they went on to win five Tour de France victories.

What is Continuous Improvement? Demystifying Kaizen

Every task comprises multiple processes, from onboarding to offboarding, down to invoicing and inventorying.

And processes, when you break them down, can be analyzed and improved to make them efficient, reliable and scalable.

On their Georgetown website, Toyota notes that:

“Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is the hallmark of the Toyota Production System. The primary objectives are to identify and eliminate ‘Muda,’ or waste, in all areas, including the production process.

“Its key elements emphasize making a task simpler and easier to perform, re-engineering processes to accommodate the physical demands on team members, increasing the speed and efficiency of the work process, maintaining a safe work environment, and constantly improving the product quality.”

Continuous improvement is a continual strategy, and so it is important to inculcate a culture of constant improvement so that every employee at every level becomes conscious of those little things which collectively make all the difference.

The aim of continuous improvement strategies is to streamline work and reduce waste in the forms of cost, time and defects (rework), while refining those processes that drive high customer satisfaction.

There are many strategies used to implement continuous improvement. Some of them include TPC, Lean, and Six Sigma. We’ll explore them later in this article.

Why Continuous Improvement is Important: The Toyota Story

Many management practices that Toyota embraced are now referred to as “lean.” Toyota was able to apply lean practices and other process improvement methods to push their company to automotive manufacturing domination.

Toyota’s hodgepodge method of continuous improvement is dubbed the Toyota Production System, or TPS. The two basic components of this system are: Jidoka and just in time.

They are the foundation on which other tools, methods, and principles of the TPS system are built on. 

The TPS system was so effective and became so popular that other companies like Herman Miller copied it and adopted it to their own businesses. In fact, Herman Miller dubbed their system the HMPS (Herman Miller Performance System).

Toyota’s continuous improvement system (the TPS) has helped this company consistently deliver affordable, reliable cars for more than 50 years.

Benefits of Continuous Improvement: Continuous Gains

Benefits of Continuous Improvement: Continuous Gains

Fewer things influence the effectiveness of a business than clunky processes. But continuous improvement can be used to improve manufacturing processes, operating processes, onboarding processes, and even offboarding processes.

In this section, we’ll explore some of the benefits of continuous improvement, and in the downloadable resource, we’ll explain why it is important to inculcate a continuous improvement culture and how you can create such a culture in your company.

Increased efficiency and productivity

Unless you pay attention to them, business processes can become clunky and repetitive.

The first step to continuous improvement is discarding redundant steps and refining useful existing processes.

Lean precise processes make employees more efficient and productive. The result of both benefits is profitability.

More customer satisfaction

Good customer service begins with a thorough understanding of what is valuable to the customer and working to deliver that value as fully as possible.

Continuous improvement helps to identify customer values and streamline the value delivery process. 

The result?

Products and services that anticipate and address pain points before the customer even becomes aware of them.

Reduction of waste

As your processes become more refined, your employees will make fewer errors, and produce more products even faster. The increased productivity and time savings will cause your labor costs to tank.

In addition, refined processes will help to optimize material use as well as curb any wastes that may have otherwise arisen from production errors.

Reduced Costs

You may be spending more than you should on frivolous processes. 

But just as we’ve seen, a core aspect of continuous improvement is looking for areas of waste. Curtailing waste is done by either eliminating redundant steps or refining them so they aren’t as depletive. 

This benefit is most obvious in manufacturing. Reduction in waste drives the cost of labor, manufacturing, and manufacturing materials down.

In fact, by minimizing waste, Toyota was able to deliver more reliable cars at affordable prices because they could keep manufacturing costs down to a minimum. 

Greater agility

In companies where continuous improvement is tightly embraced, employees are more comfortable with drastic change(s).

In times of change or crises (like the pandemic, for example), those types of workforces more easily adapt to new circumstances.

Although there are many factors that contribute to a company’s agility and flexibility, including technology adoptions and integrations, a culture of continuous improvement is important to building an agile business.

Better products and services

As production processes and value delivery processes become more refined, products become more tailored to the needs of the customers and will usually be of a high quality.

This can make products more economically competitive. 

More engaged employees

Many employees are not engaged enough at work. Continuous improvement strategies are essentially designed to make work easier for employees with more efficient processes. 

Asking them for feedback (Gemba Walks, as we’ll see in a later section) is an effective tool in continuous improvement and lets the employee know that their ideas are important. This changes their role and involvement in business processes from passive to active.

As a result? They are more engaged, and this usually leads to increased job satisfaction. 

Process Improvement Strategies: Methodologies to the Madness   

Processes don’t magically improve. There are methodologies and strategies that can help business owners not just refine their business’ process, making them efficient and effective, but also to create organizational cultures that encourage improvement.

The following are four of the most important process improvement methodologies:

  • Lean 
  • Six Sigma
  • Lean Six Sigma
  • Total Quality Management

Lean

The angle Lean takes to process improvement is one of waste reduction. The aim is to cut costs as much as possible by reducing waste to a minimum.

Although referred to as lean manufacturing, lean’s core concepts and ideas can be applied to every organization and process, regardless of whether it’s manufacturing or manufacturing related.

To visualize and effect lean, a tool called a value stream map is used. In another section, we’ll explore what a value stream map is and how you can use it to implement lean strategies.

Meanwhile, a value stream map is a visual representation of all the steps involved in a business process. Included in a value stream map are value-added processes and non-value-added processes. This helps you to know which steps are unnecessary and that you should remove.

Six Sigma

Originating from the factory and management of Motorola, Six Sigma has since been adopted in many business and manufacturing processes.

It is a data-centric approach to process improvements which eliminates defects by keeping processes tightly controlled within precise mathematical tolerances.

Six Sigma, however, has two important components you should be aware of: DMAIC and DMADV.

DMAIC, which is used by process engineers to create new processes, stands for:

  • Define the opportunity for improvement.
  • Measure the performance of existing processes.
  • Analyze the process to any defects and root causes.
  • Improve the process by addressing the root causes you discovered.
  • Control the improved process and future process performance by correcting any deviations before they can result in defects.

DMADV, the latter, is the methodology used to create new processes.

Its acronym represents:

  • Define the goal of the process, remembering to keep it aligned with business goals and customer needs.
  • Measure all the factors that are critical to quality (also called CTQ).
  • Analyze feasible design and development options.
  • Design the process, making sure it remains aligned with the business goals and customer needs you’ve earlier defined.
  • Verify that the newly designed process meets established goals and customer needs. If it does, then the process can be implemented.

SIPOC analysis diagrams, the Ishikawa (or fishbone) diagrams, and business process maps are all useful in implementing Six Sigma.

Lean Six Sigma

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is an expansion and a combination of both methodologies described above.

Whereas lean focuses on minimizing waste and Six Sigma focuses on reducing variations and consequently defects, Lean Six Sigma is a fact-based, data-driven process improvement methodology that drives results by reducing variation, waste and cycle time.

Wherever waste and variation exist, Lean Six Sigma can be applied as a methodology to drive continuous improvement

Lean Six Sigma can be used to cut costs and improve quality.

Just as outlined in previous sections, tools like DMAIC, DMADV, SIPOC analysis and value stream maps are all tools that can be combined to assist in the implementation of Lean Six Sigma.

Total Quality Management (TQM)

Unlike lean and Six Sigma, which are new to the game, TQM is much older, dating back to the 1980s when it first began to gain popularity as the US government began to record successes with it.

Total quality management is a continuous process aimed at detecting, reducing, or eliminating errors. It is used to streamline supply chain management, improve customer service, and ensure that employees are armed with the right training.

This is all achieved by the continual improvement of internal processes.

Generally, TQM is based on the following principles:

  • Businesses should use a systematic approach to achieve their goals.
  • Customers determine quality levels.
  • Every contributing component of the production process is held accountable for the quality of the final product. And as such, every employee should be educated about quality, and a continuous improvement culture should be embraced so that every employee at every level strives to achieve quality.
  • Organizations should document their processes and monitor their performance to detect any deviations.

To visualize and implement TQM, the most popular tool used is something called PDCA cycle, which is short for plan, do, check, act.

In the tools’ section, we’ll examine PDCA more closely.

Incremental vs. Breakthrough Improvements: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Incremental vs. Breakthrough Improvements

Continuous improvement is typically implemented in one of two ways: incremental improvements and breakthrough improvements.

Incremental improvement

Unlike the latter, incremental continuous improvement involves little bits of improvement made by anybody and everybody in the organization to improve their processes.

It could take the form of reducing unnecessary copies, arranging equipment in a certain way, etc. It embodies the statement “little drops of water make a mighty ocean.”

Breakthrough improvement

This sort of improvement refers to significant improvements within the business. It involves creating solutions by committing and concentrating a lot of time, attention, and resources for a certain period to solve said problem.

Usually, the goal is to achieve a 50-95% improvement within four to 12 months, although this varies according to project type. 

The result of these projects is incredibly high economic returns within a short period. It’s essentially one giant effort that produces an equally massive result. 

Although continuous improvement is generally done in small increments, breakthrough improvements certainly have their place too, and they are usually used to rectify chronic problems which defy small scale efforts.

How to Implement Continuous Improvement  

Continuous improvement, just as the name implies, is a continuous process and therefore doesn’t have specific stop and start times. The best chance of maximizing the benefits of continuous improvement is by inculcating it into the company culture.

In the downloadable resource for this article, we’ll delve deeper into more tips that you can use to create a continuous improvement culture in your company. Meanwhile, these are a few tips on integrating continuous improvement into your company culture.

Begin with manageable improvements 

There’s nothing wrong with starting small.

Set reasonable realistic goals and then create actionable plans that will help you crush those improvement goals.

Starting small makes it easier for your employees to implement. It also makes it easier to monitor the success of your results.

Request feedback

Ask for feedback from customers, stakeholders, and employees at regular intervals during the improvement process. Feedback can help you detect other areas you can improve upon and also sparks the development of new ideas.

Inspire your employees

Create a system that empowers employees and workers to observe inadequacies and proffer solutions to them. 

This makes them even more eager and willing to participate and creates a culture that rewards feedback sharing.

Real World Applications of Continuous Improvement

Mayo Clinic CI System

As many as 250,000 Americans will die this year as a result of medical errors.

There is little room for error in the health sector. Mayo Clinic is committed to providing better healthcare for their patients as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

In the Mayo Clinic, the culture of continuous improvement began with “huddles,” short-team meetings designed to manage quality and safety.

In the clinics where huddles thrived, the leaders of the huddles were regularly rotated, allowing nurses or receptionists to take the spotlight at these mini continuous improvement meetings.

This allowed actively involved members to communicate the challenges they faced during work hours.

Herman Miller

Business boomed in the 1990s for Herman Miller. But the boom spelled doom for IMT (Integrated Metal Technologies), their filing cabinet plant in Lake Spring, Michigan.

They were struggling to keep pace with growing customer demand. They desperately needed a viable solution.

Luckily, they found one.

Two team members were invited to observe TPS (Toyota Production System) in action for six months. In the five-year onsite TPS training that followed, lead times fell to rock bottom and quality scores went through the roof, all without the need for major capital investments.

Brain Walker, Herman Miller CEO, said:

“Not only was the system making the work better for our people, but as a result of the changes, we also began producing higher quality products.”

George Pacific

In 2015, the biggest paper manufacturer in the world, George Pacific, opened a brand-new plant in Texas.

But in the first quarter, they only produced 1.5 million units, 1 million units fewer compared to the output of similar-sized plants.

Although the general manager was playing by the rules and following a standard procedural workflow, the plant wasn’t at its optimal output capacity.

What then was the problem?

Upon doing some digging, they found that employees had no way to apply the changes being learned because of how inflexible the standardization process was.

To solve this, the general manager created a more natural way to standardize changes so that they could be implemented more quickly.

The result?

More than 4.5 million units were produced in the second quarter of 2015, more than double the average output level.

Continuous Improvement Principles

Some fundamental principles guide the continuous improvement model. These are some of them:

Principle 1: Improvements are fueled by small changes rather than by radical change

Many organizations are complex systems made of many fine moving parts moving together. Drastic changes in one sector may likely cause undesirable effects in other sections.

The safe practical way to go is to implement small manageable. This way, you reduce risk.

And this quells the objection of waiting for the “perfect time” for the big change. Big changes come with small improvements.

Principle 2: Employees have relevant ideas

The employees, besides management, are the foundation of the continuous improvement model as they can notice opportunities for improvements first. This is because they are closer to the problems.

A continuous improvement model works better when the staff is engaged. A simple way to do this is to ask your employees what improvement they can make to save them five minutes daily. These suggestions will help you determine how to use small ideas to implement large-scale improvement in your organization.

Another method of doing this is by asking questions about the concerns of your employees. By listening to their worries about their work environment, you’ll be able to detect areas that need improvement. 

Principle 3: Implementation of incremental improvement is relatively cost-effective

Buying new software, for instance, may be expensive. Making sure everyone adapts to the new software is even more time-consuming.

But finding more efficient ways to use existing software is cheaper. This is more feasible than the radical change of buying new software.

Discarding redundant processes and refining existing processes is usually more efficient than the creation of new processes.

Principle 4: Employees take ownership and are involved in the improvement

People are resistant to change.

But one way to make employees warm up to the idea of change is by allowing them to determine improvement methods for their work. Including them in the continuous improvement process gives them power in their own spaces.

This allows them to fish out opportunities and problems, solve them, take credit, and revel in the uplifting impact of their work. 

This shifts the burden from management to workers who are willing to pull their own weight and are much more likely to solve problems.

Principle 5: Improvement is significant

The continuous improvement model relies greatly on constant feedback. Smooth implementation of change relies on smooth communication at every stage of the continuous improvement process. 

But because it can be time-consuming for managers to stay in the loop at every stage of a continuous improvement plan, communication can become chaotic.

To solve this problem, most new-generation organizations manage the situation with continuous improvement software which facilitates teamwork and fosters collaboration.

This allows organization heads to see where everyone is in real-time. Using continuous improvement software keeps everyone in the awareness loop.

Principle 6: Improvement is scalable and potentially duplicable 

It’s important to note that change doesn’t always translate to improvement. To really know whether a change has sparked improvement, the effects of that change should be measured.

Finding tools and indicators to measure the effectiveness of outcomes can help you determine whether the change should be implemented or not.

Improvements should ideally provide some sort of ROI.

The Continuous Improvement Toolbox: Tools of the Trade

The Continuous Improvement Toolbox

Just like we outlined earlier, continuous improvement is mainly done using any one of four strategies: lean, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, and TQM.

These strategies are executed using tools peculiar to those strategies. In no particular order, here are some of the many tools used to execute continuous improvement.

Process Mapping

No continuous improvement method can be implemented without process mapping because only documented processes can be examined and improved.

Process mapping visually outlines the flow of work, describing the people and the things (materials) involved with executing a process. The end product of process mapping is a process map.

It is also called a flowchart, process flowchart, process chart, functional process chart, functional flowchart, process model, workflow diagram, business flow diagram, or process flow diagram.

Although process documentation is so simple, many businesses overlook it, thereby limiting the transferability of work methods.

In the case that process mapping proves laborious, simply choose a business process automation software that can make things easier and faster.

“A rule of thumb is that a lousy process will consume ten times as many hours as the work itself requires.” —Bill Gates

Mapping Value Streams

This method expands on process mapping. 

It records the required steps in a process and goes further to outline the information and materials needed to successfully execute that step. This is useful in lean management because businesses can figure out the sites of value creation; that is, they can pinpoint value-adding steps and spot redundant steps and implement measures to make processes more efficient.

Value stream mapping also helps with product improvement as you can scrutinize new ideas and examine how it affects your customers.

Cause & Effect Analysis

Essentially, the cause-and-effect analysis is a problem-finding tool.

The cause-and-effect diagram (also called Ishikawa diagrams or fishbone diagrams) visually and logically outline the causes of problems, sometimes also outlining how those problems are related.

Originally developed as a quality-control tool, it can be used to solve any one of the following problems:

  • Find the root cause of problems.
  • Uncover bottlenecks in processes.
  • Highlight which processes aren’t working and why.

Cause and effect analysis distinguishes the causes of problems and the specific effects on the business or process. 

PDCA Cycle

The PDCA cycle is based on the kaizen philosophy. 

This method analyzes the entire process from beginning to the end. Its first usage was in Toyota’s popular manufacturing processes.

The PDCA acronym stands for plan, do, check, act, and it allows ideas and hypotheses to be tested systematically. With this tool, you can create a structure that drives continuous improvement in your organization. It has a framework that guides the head teams on a pattern for incremental improvement practices while also preventing them from repeated mistakes. The PDCA cycle is great for boosting productivity, efficiency, or general business process improvement.

The four-step guide is: 

  • Plan: Outline the goals and strategies for achieving them.
  • Do: Implement necessary changes.
  • Check: Carry out result evaluation, noting chances for improvement.
  • Act: Adjust your system based on findings from the other steps.

PDCA is simple because all members of the company can replicate the steps in their roles. With time, the organization develops an innovation and creativity culture.

Root-Check Analysis

When you think about it, the best way to solve problems is to find out the root cause and address it.

If a student was making poor grades in school, it’s easy to just increase their homework or ask them to take extra lessons. But the root cause may, just like in Ben Carson’s case, be poor eyesight.

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a lean management technique that focuses on analyzing root causes and focuses on addressing them, rather than treating surface symptoms.

The following are a few core principles that guide effective root cause analysis. Some of them are obvious. The rest? Not so much.

  • Focus on correcting and remedying root causes rather than just symptoms.
  • Don’t forget that treating symptoms can bring short-term relief.
  • There can be, and there often are, multiple root causes.
  • It’s more important to focus on HOW and WHY something happened rather than WHO was responsible.
  • Be methodical and find concrete cause-effect evidence to back up root cause claims.
  • Provide enough information to inform a corrective course of action.
  • Carefully consider how a root cause can be prevented (or replicated) in the future.

Design for Six Sigma

Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is an improvement process that replaces an existing process performance with specially designed new ones to solve specific issues. It is an important process improvement method that can be used to create large-scale changes.

DFSS is the last resort when the other improvement methods fail. When applied, it rearranges the entire process. 

Due to the large-scale effect, implementation takes several years, but in the end, businesses following this method will utilize their resources efficiently.

The Toyota 3M Model

The 3Ms were an important part of Toyota’s lean production system. The 3Ms represent three different levels of deviations that produce inadequacies in organizations. These inadequacies can reflect in manufacturing, marketing, development, research, or other divisions. 

The 3Ms are Japanese words that mean:

  • Muri: Overburden usually as a result of improper planning, badly managed resources, or excessive waste removal.
  • Mura: Irregularities that often cause “muda” waste problems.
  • Muda: Refers to wasteful activities that do not add any value. Overproduction, excessive inventory, too many defects, and overprocessing are some examples of Muda waste.

This tool is one of the best for pinpointing processes that create waste. It also mirrors opportunities to make an operation leaner.

The 3Ms are best utilized one after the other. Scan your business for Muri or overburden to figure out the areas requiring better planning. Seek out sources of Mura or irregularities in your products to reduce waste. Be sure to check the sources of waste so you can concentrate on features that drive customer value.

Gemba Walks

Gemba Walks leverage the organization’s most vital resource—the people—to drive continuous improvement. The employees in an organization can proffer the most innovative improvement ideas because they are in the frontlines every day.

They are knowledgeable in their specific area of the business process and are therefore in the perfect position to offer suggestions.

Gemba Walks allow managers to observe lower-level employees and gain valuable insight into which areas can be improved. A business owner who got this right was Jeff Bezos. One time, he had managers work in customer service so that they could gain a better understanding of how the company related with its customers directly.

In summary, leaders can be impactful on the organization; however, it should be recognized that lower-level employees do have a lot of valuable insight that shouldn’t be ignored.

The Five Whys

The five whys is an iterative interrogative process used to understand the root causes of problems. It is the ultimate root cause analysis tool.

With this tool, you ask, well, five questions to find out the root cause of an issue. This helps to focus on the real problem, rather than on shifting blame. People can use this tool without needing statistical analysis. 

This tool does not provide any solution to issues. It just creates awareness of the real problem which you can then address using the improvement strategy that best suits your business.

The 5 Phases of Continuous Improvement 

The 5 Phases of Continuous Improvement

The following are the phases of continuous improvement.

Find areas for improvement

A closer look at a procedure can help you determine areas where you can implement improvement strategies.

To do this, map your processes so you can get the big picture and then you can begin devising strategies to improve and refine the process for maximum benefits.

Launch a target goal

Once you’ve mapped out your processes and you’ve figured out which areas need the magic of improvement, set goals.

The goals could be anything from cutting time to cutting costs. Either way, setting a goal is the only practical way to decide on which strategies you would use to achieve them.

And only if you set goals can you measure progress as well as success.

Draw a strategy

You can now choose what strategy or tools you want to use.

But no matter which you choose, make sure to involve your team members. This creates a sense of inclusion and makes them motivated to stick to the changes you’d implement.

Besides, you can’t make impactful improvements without their feedback anyway.

Measure effectiveness

Check the effectiveness of your improvement by measuring the effectiveness of your actions as they affect your end goals. 

The continuous improvement process works better when you create systems to monitor project success at intervals. These intervals run the gamut from weekly check-ins to annual check-ins.

Celebrate success

In the case that everyone pulls their own weight, and everything goes well, everyone will benefit from a small celebration of the wins.

This fosters a sense of camaraderie and inclusion if not anything else.

After celebrating these small successes, your team will probably be looking forward to your next business conquest.

How Standard Operating Procedures Can Drive Continuous Improvement 

How Standard Operating Procedures Can Drive Continuous Improvement

Process mapping is the first, most important step of continuous improvement because you can’t improve what you can’t see. And standard operating procedures are an effective tool used to document business processes.

Well-written, detailed SOPs allow improvements to be planned and implemented. SOPs, however, are not a static one-time thing. They should be revised and updated to maximize their benefits.

Below are a few ways that SOPs can accelerate continuous improvement.

Documentation of best practices

As your business evolves, your processes will become more efficient and precise.

And SOPs can help you document these practices so that already improved processes are not forgotten. This helps to prevent unnecessary SOP revisions.

Properly documented SOPs ensure that employees can implement new changes that have been created company-wide.

Simply put, SOPs make continuous improvements scalable.

Higher retention of organizational memory

Staff turnover is an issue that many organizations face.

And when employees leave, they usually leave with vast amounts of tacit knowledge gained over time. Absence of this knowledge can regress, undoing all the successes of improvement strategies.

SOPs help to retain the knowledge of outgoing employees, while providing room for new employees to settle in and adjust quickly.

Quicker problem solving

SOPs can shave off the time needed to solve problems.

Precise SOPs guide response to basic problems, causes, and methods of investigation. This prevents operators from seeking new solutions in the event of a non-conformance. Ultimately, it reduces the time needed to solve problems. 

This is a win because you want to avoid all forms of waste, including time. Quicker lead times result in improved productivity.

Quicker integration of new employees

When companies become more productive, they often need to expand. And expansion may bring with it some headaches, one of them being new employee integration.

If companies cannot integrate new employees into their work and culture quickly, productivity will suffer, and quality will decline.

But SOPs can help new employees quickly become acclimated to their environments and become productive since they have access to basic training material.

Well-adjusted hires will become a functional part of an organization and managers can leverage each individual’s unique skills and feedback to improve already existing processes.

Consistent quality levels

One thing that hampers improvement is inconsistent quality levels. And consistent quality can be hard to achieve if your processes and procedures are all over the place.

Preventing inconsistent quality levels is as simple as creating work instructions (SOPs) that are written as clearly as possible so that everyone knows exactly what to do and how to do it.

Consistent, predictable processes result in consistent, predictable quality.

Easier fault tracking

When processes are standardized, finding the root causes of problems is much easier.

Why?

Because instead of playing guessing games, trying to figure out what went wrong, you can simply backtrack the procedures and pinpoint where a step deviated from the standard procedure.

Although company-wide adoption of SOPs may be met with resistance, its long-term benefits far outweigh the initial negative reaction.

How SweetProcess Helped an Overwhelmed CEO Become More Productive – and Could Help You, Too!

Employees at FACS (Forensic Analytical Consulting Services) were facing a huge problem.

They dreaded using the SOPs at FACS because they were so complex. If they needed help, they would rather ask their CEO, Kevin Trapp, for directions than use existing SOPs.

Why?

For one thing, existing SOPs were difficult to find.

Not only were they difficult to find, buried in secret folders deep within their servers, but they were also difficult to use. Team members would have to hunt through entire documents just to find help with simple things. 

And as Kevin lamented, this culture of dependency was burning up a lot of his time and other people’s time.

He needed to find a solution, and fast.

Upon discovering and using SweetProcess, he said, it was robust enough to complete what he was trying to accomplish, but it was also simple enough that it didn’t overwhelm any of the users or any of the management team who needed to understand what the vision was.
Kevin says he used to point 200 people to a PDF to hunt for a 200-word instruction. But these days, he can simply link to a procedure and his people can find information very quickly.

He said SweetProcess lifted the employee onboarding and training weight off his shoulders and made his life a lot easier.

How SweetProcess Can Help You

How SweetProcess Can Help You

Poorly written SOPs only make for excellent doorstops, especially if they’re in white binders.

But well-written SOPs that show everyone what to do, how to do it, and when to do it can help you create a stable foundation for you to launch continuous improvement strategies.

And SweetProcess is a great tool you can use to create clear, organized, accessible SOPs that everyone at every level of your company can use.

You’ll have all your content in one place, and you won’t have to spend any more time than you have to onboarding new employees. You’ll be able to see the gaps in your processes and develop strategies to fill them.

If you haven’t already, sign up for a free 14-day trial.

It’s truly free. No need to input your card details.

Want more free stuff? 

Want to learn a few tips you can use to make your employees more receptive to change and improvement?

Here, you can download the guide to creating a continuous improvement culture.

Get our FREE Guide on Creating a Continuous Improvement Culture: One Step at a Time

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