7 Best Continuous Improvement Techniques & Tools

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A Tanzanian proverb said it best, “Little by little, a little becomes a lot.” Continuous improvement techniques in business prove this to be the case.

With the aid of continuous improvement models and lean continuous improvement tools, organisations are able to incrementally make changes that can create massive positive outcomes in both the short and long-term.

In this article, we’ll share the benefits of continuous improvement strategies and technology that can help make a difference.

Coming Up

What are the Benefits of Continuous Improvement Tools?

How to Start with Continuous Improvement Tools

What are the Best Continuous Improvement Tools?

How to Implement Continuous Improvement Tools Successfully?

The Bottom Line

What are the Benefits of Continuous Improvement Tools?

Given that continuous improvement techniques comes in many shapes and forms depending on what you’re looking to accomplish, it’s useful to leverage continuous improvement tools that can help monitor the benefits.

Continuous improvement tools provide:

1. Real-time Visibility

Continuous improvement tools help you to see how processes are changing right in front of your eyes. With automation solutions, you can transform how your business runs processes. When you automate your processes, you’ll be able to track their status.

2. Improved Tracking

With continuous improvement tools, you gain access to data to keep an eye on how your implemented changes are improving processes and the business overall.

3. Enhanced Accountability

When you use automation solutions, it’s easy to document how processes are intended to run and communicate effectively with everyone involved. This way, people are held accountable for the processes that they are a part of.

How to Start with Continuous Improvement Tools

When you’re getting ready to begin using continuous improvement tools to apply your continuous improvement techniques, there may be a sudden sense of overwhelm. That’s because these tools are powerful, so knowing where to begin helps ease into the change.

To get started, keep in mind the following considerations:

1. Set Goals

You may have a lot of ideas of what you wish to improve upon within your organisation. In order to get started without being paralysed by choosing where to begin, it’s helpful to define what you wish to achieve. Think about the overall goals for the organisation and how this strategy of improvement can help move the needle.

2. Select Your Methods

Take a look at some of the best continuous improvement methodologies. Then, you can make sense of which method best suits your intended goals from step one.

3. Leverage Tools

Based on your methodology and goals, these can direct you towards the tools that will make the greatest impact. Everything should be based on where your business is now, where you want it to be, and what will fill the gaps to get you there.

What are the Best Continuous Improvement Tools?

Let’s take a look at some of the best continuous improvement tools so that you can put your ideas for how to make your business run better into action.

1. Automation Software

While it’s not technically a continuous improvement methodology in itself, automation software is considered to be a top continuous improvement tool because of the many advantages and features that it provides.

Automation software makes it possible to remove manual, tedious, and repetitive tasks for your team’s workload. In turn, they have greater capacity to focus on high-level and strategic responsibilities.

Automation software can run your business processes, reduce errors, adhere to compliance, and provide you with deep analytics to make more informed business decisions in real-time.

2. The Five Whys

The five whys is exactly what its name implies - it is all about cause and effect. It requires that you look at a problem or imperfect process and ask “Why?” five times to get to the root issue in order to remedy or better it.

3. Gemba Walks

Gemba Walks is a popular continuous improvement methodology that is focused on the people who are hands-on working with processes.

Put simply, Gemba Walks is about observation, in which a company’s leadership is able to stay in touch with those “on the ground” so to speak to get an idea of how the organisation and its operations flow.

In Japanese, Gemba translates to “the place to be,” so it’s all about where an organisation drives its value. In order to execute Gemba Walks with efficiency, there needs to be foresight and an understanding of what kind of issues you wish to address in order to keenly observe what happens.

4. 5S

The 5S is a tool that’s meant to pinpoint waste, inefficiencies, and then use these findings to transform the business to be more orderly and effective. It consists of 5 actions (or the S’s), namely:

  • Seiri (Sort): Arrange items and remove any step that is unnecessary
  • Seiton (Set in order): Place steps of a process in order or tangible objects in a specified space so they are easy to find
  • Seiso (Shine): Make your work environment clean and safe
  • Seiketsu (Standardise): Design procedures, processes, and schedules that aid in the accurate repetition of work
  • Sustain (Self-discipline): Ensure that these habits and the overall approach is adopted and implemented by team members

5. PDCA

The PDCA Cycle stands for: Plan, Do, Check, Act. As an approach, it’s intended to be systematic in testing hypotheses and evaluating what works best to move organisations forward.

It’s a commonly used continuous improvement methodology in lean manufacturing. To add more color, here’s what each step of the cycle entails:

  • Plan: Define your business’ strategic goals and create a roadmap for how to achieve them
  • Do: Put the plan into action and make adjustments, as necessary
  • Check: Monitor the results and continuously identify any areas ripe for improvement
  • Act: Make the said adjustments based on the “check” step

6. Kanban

As a visual continuous improvement tool, Kanban literally is performed to create a big picture of how processes operate within an organisation.

It consists of using sticky notes and placing them on a big whiteboard or wall to evaluate workflows. The tenets that make Kanban effective are that you get to see your processes, reduce manual labour within them, focus on the flow, and of course, continuously make improvements to get better.

While Kanban has been heavily used by software teams, there’s no stopping the ways in which it can be applied for teams, organisations as a whole, and even an individual.

7. Value Stream Mapping

In a method that’s similar to Kanban in the sense it offers a visual aid, value stream mapping also lists out a process’ steps. It’s typically used to outline how a product or service is delivered to the end user or customer.

When visually depicted, organisational leaders and managers can analyse the process to highlight any inefficiencies. By doing so, they can initiate improvements and change to make the process smoother or better in an effort to best serve the customer.

While it also found its beginnings in the manufacturing sector, value stream mapping can be applicable in any type of business as it helps to see the ins and outs of any type of process.

Ultimately, you can then implement automation software in order to automate processes and immediately reduce wasted steps to save time.

How to Implement Continuous Improvement Tools Successfully?

As you can see from this abbreviated list, there are many continuous improvement techniques that exist to help improve your business in every which way.

Before you implement or try any of the aforementioned methodologies, it’s useful to review this list of best practices to make the most out of your activities.

1. Start Small

You may have a long list of what you want to make better within your company. However, as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

It’s important to prioritise the aspects that will have a domino effect on the rest of the business so you can choose where to begin. It helps to keep the business’ long-term and strategic goals in mind when deciding what to start with.

Additionally, by starting small and making incremental changes, it helps everyone to be on the same page rather than overwhelm the individuals who have to put the changes into effect.

2. Make it Simple

It could be the case that a big issue you are experiencing actually has a fairly simple fix. Rather than overcomplicating the situation, use tools such as the 5 Whys to first get to the bottom of the problem.

Additionally, involve your team in the conversations around pain points and potential solutions as many perspectives can make it possible to see the situation from an angle you may have otherwise overlooked.

3. Hold People Accountable

As you roll out changes to processes and procedures, ensure that everyone involved is aware of what they are responsible for doing.

Make sure that employees understand their role in the bigger picture and that their actions do have an impact on the organisation. This way, they can be actively engaged and accountable for their own selves.

A great aspect of automation software is that you can grant access controls and outline processes for people clearly. By doing so, every person is aware of what they are responsible for and can be easily held accountable for execution.

The Bottom Line

Continuous improvement techniques make it possible for a little to turn into a lot! While the methodologies listed are surely impactful, they also require strong leadership and proactivity to make desired change come to fruition.

With set goals in mind and the readiness to implement adjustments within your organisation, consider the use of automation software to be of great service.

The workflow automation market is expected to reach more than $26 billion in 2025, which shouldn’t be surprising after reading this article.

Process automation solutions increase efficiency, reduce waste, save time and money, and make continuous process improvement feasible.

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