Continuous Improvement Strategies & Benefits

Process Improvement
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Running a business can feel like an uphill climb, but every small step forward can make a big difference over time. So, it’s understandable why continuous improvement strategies are so highly revered and practiced across industries.

We’re going to look at some continuous improvement tools, along with process improvement initiatives that can be implemented to benefit your business’ functioning.

Coming Up

What is a Continuous Improvement Strategy?

What are the Benefits of Continuous Improvement?

What is the Link between Continuous Improvement Strategy and Maturity?

What are the Types of Continuous Improvement Strategies?

How to Develop a Continuous Improvement Strategy?

What are the Principles of Continuous Process Improvement?

When to Apply Continuous Process Improvement?

What are the Steps for Continuous Process Improvement?

What are Examples of Continuous Improvement?

How to Create an Environment of Continuous Improvement?

Final Words

What is a Continuous Improvement Strategy?

A continuous improvement strategy, or commonly called a continuous improvement process, is an ongoing set of actions that aim to enhance a business’ processes, products, or services.

Given the array of process improvement examples, change can be either experienced over time or in one big swoop, depending on the actions and improvement being performed.

The nature and implication of the term “continuous” means that the process or product is constantly being evaluated in order to keep making it better. With these initiatives, businesses are better able to efficiently and effectively move towards reaching their goals.

What are the Benefits of Continuous Improvement?

No company likes to deal with bottlenecks, delays, and mistakes. Continuous improvement tools and processes aim to mitigate and prevent such occurrences. In turn, there are many benefits to be had, including:

  • Less errors
  • Lower costs
  • Speedier runtimes
  • Better relationships with stakeholders
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Enhanced employee satisfaction
  • Improved product quality
  • Higher rates of productivity

If there’s so much to gain, shouldn’t everyone be practicing continuous process improvement? In fact, yes they should. And, luckily, there are automation tools and software that are available to help you map, measure, and analyze your existing processes to find room for improvement.

Once you know where to start, you simply get going and keep an eye on the results as your business performs more smoothly.

What is the Link between Continuous Improvement Strategy and Maturity?

Think about businesses at different stages in their lifecycle. For a business that is mature and has its processes clearly defined and understood, any unforeseen shift in its environment may not actually pose a big threat.

This is because the business may have a plan in place for how to respond, or even a proactive plan for how to mitigate risk or loss in the first place.

A nascent business could lack the ability to remain as agile. However, with a continuous improvement strategy in place, the newer business can more closely mirror the established business.

This is because it is able to review its processes, make changes on the fly, and assess the impact of doing so.

What are the Types of Continuous Improvement Strategies?

With the benefits of continuous improvement strategies in mind (and hopefully the excitement to start initiating one or several), let’s dive into some common process improvement initiatives and project improvement ideas.

1. Plan-Do-Check-Act

Known as PDCA, Plan, Do, Check, Act spells out its steps at face value. The cyclical process is intended for a company or small team to:

  • Start by measuring current processes and standards (plan)
  • Implement a change to an existing process (do)
  • Monitor and assess the change (check),
  • Decide whether or not to keep the new change/roll it out on a broad scale (act).

2. Lean

The goal of lean improvement is to eliminate waste, which can be defined in 8 different ways: defects, waiting time, over productive, under or non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, excessive processing or motion.

3. Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping outlines the flow of a process visually in a detailed format, much like a flow chart. The goal is to see where value is added and remove any steps where it’s missing.

4. Kaizen

An age-old strategy, Kaizen is geared towards making many incremental changes as opposed to one big sweeping change.

5. Total Quality Management

Total quality management (TCM) has its roots in manufacturing, but can be applied anywhere. It is focused on employee involvement, communication, and related elements that make a company successful.

6. 5S

5S stands for: sort (pinpoint unnecessary steps), set in order (make the process logically flow), shine (adapt the process to be better), standardize (make it consistent), and sustain (track performance).

7. Kanban

Work items and processes are laid out on a kanban board for visual understanding, review, and ideation for improvement.

8. Hoshin Kanri

Hoshin Kanri is all about removing waste that stems from poor communication or a lack of direction.

9. Six Sigma

Six Sigma’s goal is to reach the most optimal level of quality by reducing errors.

10. TIMWOOD

TIMWOOD is an acronym for the seven types of waste that commonly occurs in manufacturing, namely: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, and defects.

How to Develop a Continuous Improvement Strategy?

While you can go about developing a continuous improvement strategy in many different ways, an optimal approach is to have a hold on two main categories of considerations, which are: the organization’s competitiveness as it stands today and performance.

Start by defining how the company attracts and retains customers, or what its competitive advantages are. Then, see how those can be made stronger.

Secondly, measure the organization's performance against such factors. A solid way to analyze how your company is executing its current processes is to automate them and review reports to see what the analysis shows.

What are the Principles of Continuous Process Improvement?

Any continuous improvement strategy that you choose to implement will stand on the same foundations. These principles are:

  • Small (but mighty) change: Progress is intended to be slow and incremental, not take place in a rapid shift.
  • Collaboration: Employees should have their voices to be heard as oftentimes the best change comes from those on the frontline.
  • Measurable: Any improvement, whether big or small, should be able to be measured. A key tenet of continuous process improvement is constant tracking and the use of data.
  • Accountability: Employees should be granted ownership of processes so that they feel involved and motivated to implement adjustments.  

When to Apply Continuous Process Improvement?

In theory, continuous process improvement is a good practice for any type of company at any point in time. And, that can be said with confidence because no matter how good you’re doing, you can always do better!

The hopeful and optimistic nature of this practice means that you can always see if it’s a good time to enact one of the many strategies mentioned above.

When you’re utilizing process automation software, it’s always easy to see where things are going smoothly and where hiccups may exist that can be made better.

Process automation is great for processes that are repetitive in nature, take time to complete, and use data from multiple sources.

With any process that runs the risk of human error or key person dependency, the use of automaton software can prevent such concerns and run smoothly without the need for IT teams (out-of-the-box solutions have the answers).

What are the Steps for Continuous Process Improvement?

The simplest way to approach continuous process improvement is by following these chronological steps:

1. Understand the current situation

Collect data and information and map out your current processes.

2. Design the optimal outcome

Visualize and design the business’ goals and objectives to see the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

3. Plan the journey

Strategize and describe how you can close the gap to get closer to your desired state.

4. Make changes

Put your plan in action by implementing ideas and/or technological tools, test, adjust and monitor the outcomes. Rinse and repeat!

What are Examples of Continuous Improvement?

If you’re still unsure where to begin or what to improve, keep in mind these examples:

1. Staff Training

Perhaps your staff isn’t up-to-date on the latest technology or stands to optimize their productivity. You can set up staff training to make it a reality.

2. Automation

If you’re handling complex and data-heavy tasks by hand, there is a high chance that manual errors are causing expensive and timely delays.

Deploying an easy-to-use automation software can streamline your processes, prevent mistakes, and save your business both time and money. With its deployment, you can gain a 90% reduction in errors, and run processes 85x faster than you would be able to do manually.

3. Think Tanks

One of the easiest ways to get going with process improvement is to involve your team in ideation sessions and think tanks. These open forums offer a great place to locate inefficiencies, brainstorm solutions, and get the buy-in of the exact people who will likely be adjusting their workflows when you roll out solutions.

How to Create an Environment of Continuous Improvement?

To foster a workplace that is welcoming of continuous improvement, it often starts from the top. Leadership and management should set a good example and provide effective communication.

With good communication, teams are able to see for themselves the need for change and invite it rather than run from it.

Additionally, by having business goals that are clear, it makes it easier for everyone to be on the same page to accomplish them.

Final Words

Continuous improvement strategies always have a place in any organization. With the goal of getting better with each passing day, small and incremental changes end up having a big influence on the organization as a whole (especially over time).

And now, with the aid of automation technology that also features analysis, automated account reconciliation, rebate management, expense analytics, reporting, and more,  it’s easier than ever to make your organization more efficient with less effort!

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