Continuous Improvement – The on-going effort for perfection
Continuous improvement is a type of change that is focused on increasing the effectiveness and/or efficiency of an organisation to fulfil its policy and objectives.
It is not limited to quality initiatives. Improvement in business strategy, business results, customer, employee and supplier relationships can be subject to continual improvement. Put simply, it means ‘getting better all the time’.
Continuous improvement systems (CIS) or processes (often abbreviated as CI or CIP), are an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once. In a sporting context, the term “Aggregation of Marginal Gains” was coined to describe the incremental improvements made by the British cycling team to help them win Tour De France 2 years ahead of target and 70% of the cycling gold medals in the Beijing Olympics.
The belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement. The team started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tyres.
But the team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.
Technically, an organisation can achieve this in a business setting, within this, delivery (using customer valued) processes are constantly evaluated and improved in the light of their efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility often in light of feedback from the customer.
Among the most widely used tools for continuous improvement is a four-step quality model—the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, also known as Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle:
Plan: Identify an opportunity and plan for change.
Do: Implement the change on a small scale.
Check (or Review): Use data to analyse the results of the change and determine whether it made a difference.
Act: If the change was successful, implement it on a wider scale and continuously assess your results. If the change did not work, begin the cycle again.
Other widely used methods of continuous improvement such as Six Sigma, Lean, and Lean Six Sigma combined emphasize employee involvement and teamwork; measuring and systematizing processes; and reducing variation, defects and cycle times. The latter called by some the Engine room of Continuous Improvement.
Whether using the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle or a full blown Lean 6 Sigma approach, Changera™ offers a holistic approach to continuous improvement which fully integrates with Process Life Cycle and Change Management.
We focus on enablers such as leadership, communication, resources, organisation architecture, people and processes – in other words, everything in the organisation, in all functions at all levels. Taking this continuous improvement approach invariably leads to better results such as price, cost, productivity, time to market, delivery, responsiveness, profit and (internal and or external) customer and employee engagement/satisfaction.
Every system, programme or project should have provision for an improvement cycle as part of Life Cycle Management. Therefore when an objective has been achieved, work should commence on identifying better ways of doing it. Easy to say, harder to do without the need for assigned resource beyond an implementation phase for example.
Fundamentally, we believe that there is no improvement without measurement. We help an organisation to establish current performance before embarking on any improvement. If it does not, we will have no baseline from which to determine if the process improvement or change have yielded any improvement.
We often use a ten step sequence in undertaking continuous improvement:
- determine current performance
- establish a need to improve and define the target
- obtain commitment and define the improvement objective
- organise the diagnostic resources
- carry out research and analysis to discover the cause of current performance
- define and test solutions that will accomplish the improvement objective
- produce improvement and change plans which specify how and by whom the changes will be implemented
- identify and overcome any resistance to the change by including health and wellbeing risk assessments and support strategies
- implement the change
- evaluate the success and put in place controls to hold new levels of performance and repeat step one
and often use one or more of a portfolio of tools which enable an organisation to execute effectively the ten steps above. These include:
- Ishikawa fishbone diagram to examine cause and effect
- Pareto analysis to identify the few influences on a situation which have the biggest impact
- forcefield diagram to display the forces for and against change
- charting techniques to demonstrate whether improvement is being achieved
Continuous Improvement is far more than a set of techniques. For many organisations, it involves a radical change in attitudes. The defence of the status quo, and resistance to innovation, cannot be treated as normal management behaviour. A fear of reprisals for reporting problems has to be replaced by congratulating people for identifying an opportunity to improve. Hoarding of good ideas within departmental walls must be a thing of the past as people share their knowledge and experience in the search for greater collective success.
We believe that for Continuous Improvement to be successful it is about the entire organisation and everything it does. It has to be a prime concern of , and led by executive management with its success inextricably linked to commitment from the top. The commitment must also be highly visible. It is not enough to have a quality policy signed by the chief executive. If executive management does not demonstrate its commitment by doing what it says it will do it cannot expect others to be committed to the policy. We can also help with this by coaching and mentoring.