January 22, 2020

5 Continuous Improvement Examples You Need to Know

Process Improvement
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There isn’t a business leader out there that would say no to being able to improve their business. In whatever capacity it may be, business improvements should be constant within an organisation. A process called continuous improvement provides precisely this value. With a continuous improvement example, as well as techniques, this article will showcase how you can help your business operate better. 

Business improvements not only benefit the bottom line, but they also improve quality, safety and both employee and customer satisfaction. 54% of the enhancements increase customer satisfaction. 

Whether you know what you need to improve or not, this article will provide you with everything you need to know about continuous improvement, as well as implementation examples that could greatly benefit your organisation. 

What is Continuous Improvement? 

First things first, let’s define what continuous improvement means. With its roots in manufacturing, continuous improvement is a method that strives to locate opportunities for ensuring efficiency, continuously. This involves the assessment of current processes, products and services to ensure that output is maximised and waste is minimised. 

Continuous improvement benefits internal and external stakeholders, from employees to customers and investors alike. But, continuous improvement isn’t a one-and-done deal that a company performs and then forgets. If the name doesn’t give it away, let’s drive this fact home - the method is continuous, as in, it does not have an end. It’s a method that becomes a part of a business’ ongoing operations. You can consider it to be like a way of life, rather than something new you might try once. But, even though it becomes a part of your business, it still requires strategy and methodology to impact change. 

Since continuous improvement becomes a way of operating, this means that everyone must be on board. So, creating a culture of improvement is a priority to make it work. This can be done by empowering everyone within an organisation to understand that they can point out places for development to spark positive change. 

Types of Process Improvement

There are various methods for process improvement. We’ll briefly define three kinds and then move into examples of continuous improvement. 

  • LEAN Technology: Created by Toyota to optimise its production cycle, LEAN improvement is customer-focused. It defines what customers value from the process most to determine what can be eliminated from the production of a product to decrease waste and cut costs. 
  • Six Sigma: Six Sigma is a method that focuses on improving the quality of business processes. It’s aimed at limiting the variation in processes to ensure consistency and increase performance. It uses statistics to measure deviations from a defined centre line on a control chart. 
  • Top Quality Management: With some similarity to Six Sigma, Top Quality Management (TCM) holds all involved parties responsible for producing quality outputs. It looks to standardise processes to reduce errors. 


5 Continuous Improvement Examples

Now that you understand what continuous process improvement is, it’ll be helpful to see the theory applied in a business setting. 

Here’s a look at five examples of continuous process improvement and where you can use it during your day-to-day practices:

1. Ideation and Think Tanks: 

Initiating regular think tanks and ideation sessions can benefit your organisation. You can choose to run think tanks with an agenda in mind or at the very least, elicit the attendance of key personnel so that valuable ideas are discussed. During these sessions, you can explain how processes are currently being run to see if there are places that need to be improved and changes to be made. Often, since technology is so intertwined with most business processes, a starting point is to discuss updates and new technology solutions geared towards optimisation. For example, automation solutions are becoming increasingly necessary for businesses to remain competitive. 

2. Surveys and Polls: 

The people who work within your organisation are the most well-versed to know where improvements can be made. It’s not only important to gain feedback from customers and vendors, but important and often overlooked is employee feedback. By polling your team, you can find out their pain points and find places for improvement. As a business leader, you spend most of your time on the big picture, so the smaller details that significantly affect your business’ outputs can go unnoticed without such insight. 

3. Monthly Training: 

In big businesses, especially, it is common that each employee works within a silo or “swim lane.” But, both cross-training and automation software can contribute to process improvement. For example, if you can train employees to know how to do multiple jobs, then if someone is absent because of sickness or vacation, a process remains unharmed. Another idea is to implement an automation tool within your organisation to reduce dependency on key personnel. For example, automation tools like SolveXa’s system are designed such that processes are stored within the system and can be run by virtually anyone with access. Not only is the process stored and will automatically run, but as the process runs, the system documents the steps it is taking to produce its output. 

4. Time Audits: 

One of the most significant resources wasted within a business is time. Being able to accurately measure and gauge how much time a process takes on behalf of your employees can offer insight into where you can optimise a process. It’s as simple as using software to time a process. Then, you can analyse how long processes take and find ways to eliminate wasted time. This could be in the form of automating approvals and reducing touch-points, thereby preventing potential bottlenecks and delays from occurring. 

5. Catchball: 

Within organisations, processes are rarely started and completed by a single person. As such, every process needs to have someone who can be held responsible for its execution, but still requires the input and assistance of multiple people. Catchball is a method of continuous improvement that requires the person who initiated a process to state its purpose and concerns to the others involved clearly. In this way, they can then “throw” it out to the group for feedback and ideas for improvement, yet the single person remains responsible for its completion. 

The above are just some ideas to get continuous improvement going within your organisation. 

Here’s a look at some areas that breed waste within the business that often have room for improvement:

  • Timeliness: System downtimes, approvals and bottlenecks of information 
  • Errors: Manual data entry errors, invoice errors 
  • People: Underutilised workforce, excessive management and micromanagement
  • Production: Overproduction of printed documents before necessary 

All of the above are just baseline examples of what many businesses face. In every case, an automation tool like SolveXia can assist in eliminating waste and helping with continuous improvement. The automation tool is designed to be accessible to all relevant parties, and by automating data and processes, errors are inherently reduced. 


Incremental vs Breakthrough Continuous Improvement 

Continuous improvement can be made as you go or a full-fledged approach to tackle significant issues at once:

1. Incremental Continuous Improvement: 

This type of process improvement is done as you recognise problems during a process. The upside of this type of improvement is that it is relatively cheaper and faster than breakthrough continuous improvement. Say you are running a process and notice a mistake. This could be a typo in a brochure or an error in data. You can fix the error as you go; however, to ensure that the actual process moves forward in its next iteration without the same error requires that you communicate the change. So, incremental continuous improvement is beneficial so long as the person who fixes the mistake brings it up to the rest of the organisation. 

2. Breakthrough Continuous Improvement: 

Breakthrough continuous improvement happens the other way around. Rather than making a change during the process itself, it involves targeting the process for improvement and then strategically approaching the change as a united front. These are typically more substantial items for correction that require an entire team to implement. 

Benefits of Continuous Improvement 

Continuous improvement strives to accomplish two main goals, namely, streamline workflows and reduce waste. Together, these work to reduce costs and optimise outputs, whether that be the quality of a product or service. 

3. Streamline workflow: 

Most processes require multiple touchpoints or parties involved. These always have room for improvement. Whether it’s from the basis of the data needed or the communication between the people who play a role in its completion. 

4. Reduce costs/waste:

Project managers and executives have models and data to review the cost of every project. With continuous process improvement, they can assess where the fees are too high and then work towards reducing costs and waste to make a process more efficient. 

How to Implement Continuous Process Improvement

As mentioned above, continuous process improvement doesn’t always have a clear beginning and end. Instead, it works best when it is part of the company culture and involves everyone within an organisation. 

Here are some considerations for how to make continuous process improvement the norm within your business: 

1. Manageable improvements: 

Set reasonable goals. When setting out for improvement, you want to break down larger projects into smaller, measurable pieces. This will help to reduce overwhelm, as well as keep everyone involved on the right track to succeed. 

2. Elicit Feedback: 

You should continuously seek feedback from customers, stakeholders and employees throughout your operations. This feedback will not only help locate opportunities for improvement, but it can also offer new perspectives and breed new ideas. 

3. Motivate employees: 

Not only should you breed a culture when each employee feels empowered to notice inefficiencies and offer solutions, but you should also develop a rewarding culture to be motivational. For example, you can create rewards or develop an accessible system for employees to share feedback continuously. 

The Bottom Line 

Continuous process improvement offers a method for your business to get better at any point in time. Whether you choose to implement incremental or breakthrough changes or a mixture of both, you can help to reduce waste and optimise outcomes. The above continuous improvement example and strategies can help you achieve your business goals. 

Like any type of process improvement, you want to remember to track and monitor any changes to ensure you are following towards improvement, rather than hurting any other part of the process. Automation software like SolveXia can help to analyse current processes, as well as implement solutions that optimise operations. 

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