10 Tools for Continuous Improvement: Expert’s Guide

Process Improvement
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American motorsports racing driver Joey Logano may have said it best, “There’s always room for improvement.” While he was talking about the track, the truth still holds when it comes to business. And while his tools for improvement are practice, motors, and engines, tools for continuous improvement in business are all around, you just have to know how to enact them.

We’re going to share some of the most impactful continuous improvement models and look at how performance improvement tools (including automation) can be of service to your business’ continued success.

Let’s race forward!

Coming Up

What are the Benefits of Continuous Improvement Tools?

How to Start with Continuous Improvement?

What is the Role of Methods and Tools in Continuous Improvement?

What are Continuous Improvement Tools?

How to Succeed Implementing Continuous Improvement?

The Bottom Line

What are the Benefits of Continuous Improvement Tools?

Continuous improvement tools combine the power of technology with the execution of human action to make a difference across an organisation’s functioning. Tools like 3D printing, advanced analytics, customisable dashboards, and automated processes are all helping organisations to get better.

Along with technology’s aid, continuous improvement tools and methodologies are helpful because they provide you with:

  • A plan of action
  • Ways to measure change
  • A guideline for implementation
  • How to set benchmarks for success

How to Start with Continuous Improvement?

As you browse through the several continuous improvement methodologies we will soon share, you may feel overwhelmed and concerned with where to begin. The best place to start is by asking an important and possibly life-changing question: “What is the goal of bringing this practice to the business?”

By asking what you are trying to advance, you can plan accordingly as to what methodology to follow, as well as which continuous improvement tools can make the most difference.

It’s also useful to question:

  • What can be done to help produce greater value?
  • Where can we cut costs?
  • Do we need to be producing at a higher rate?
  • Would adding new product lines be of use?

What is the Role of Methods and Tools in Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement is a beneficial practice because of its nature: it’s continuous. It’s not something you implement and expect to see a major shift all at once because not only would that take time, but it would also be inherently risky.

Instead, tools in continuous improvement enable incremental change and innovation. So rather than the tools of continuous improvement being a challenge, it’s more necessary that you sustain their application over time to witness improvement.

To do so, focus on the following three aspects of their execution, namely:

1. Set Goals

Begin by setting goals that align most closely to your business strategy. There’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need to question what’s happening within your organisation’s walls.

2. Choose Methods

Of the various continuous improvement tools, you’ll have to pick a process that is most likely to help you reach your finish line. With these methodologies enacted, you’ll have a clear blueprint as to how to power forward.

3. Leverage Tools

Once your methodology is in action, there are many tools that can help streamline the changes and monitor your practices.

For starters, finance automation software is a noble place to begin because it's widely applicable to many business practices, includes analytics, and can automate and standardise workflows.

By deploying a no-code solution, your business gets to save time, improve insights and reduce errors.

Along with using automation solutions for continuous improvement, you can also automate many important finance processes and procedures like: rebate management, expense analytics, regulatory reporting, account reconciliation, and more.

What are Continuous Improvement Tools?

If you want to feel like Joey Lagano when he crosses the finish line as a champion, then these tools for continuous improvement can help you get there.

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable tools for continuous improvement for any business:

1. PDCA

PDCA is a cycle that stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. It is best intended when you’re looking to improve efficiency, productivity, or business processes. Here’s what each step entails:

  • Plan: define strategy and goals and outline how you will achieve them
  • Do: put your plan into action to make sure it works as envisioned
  • Check: analyse the outcome and assess any opportunities for change
  • Act: adjust as needed based on your Check step

Close to PDCA is PDSA, in which the S stands for “study” rather than check. In this cycle, studying involves passively observing the outcome instead of being active about monitoring changes.

PDCA is incredibly popular because it’s easy to follow and can apply to a variety of situations and business circumstances. Plus, the acronym makes it easy to remember so it can become a part of your company culture.

2. Kanban

Kanban boards are a visual way to make project management come to life. It’s meant to let you see iterative work. Ultimately, Kanban helps with time management, prioritisation, and being effective.

On a Kanban board, you have three columns that represent projects:

  • To do
  • In progress
  • Done

Use sticky notes to itemise each list, which makes projects easy to move between columns, too. Keep in mind that Kanban is more project-focused rather than process-focused.

However, you can still use automation tools as part of Kanban as you can design workflows in a system and automate them. This will help move your “to do” processes into the “done” columns faster.

3. The 5 Whys

Using a question-and-answer method of the 5 Whys brings you closer to the root issue of inefficiencies within your business. It’s as simple as asking why - 5 times to drill deeper to the heart of a process or issue.

By answering these questions, you can figure out where improvements or changes should be made to optimise processes and productivity.

4. Gemba Walks

Gemba Walks is one of the best tools for continuous improvement because it focuses on the heart of your business- its people! Your employees are closest to any issue and any solution because they are making everything happen. So, it’s no wonder why including them in the continuous improvement process would be so beneficial.

Gemba is a Japanese term that translates to “the actual place.” It entails meeting employees where they do the work to observe and interact with them about what’s going on. In this informal way, you can uncover where problems may exist and work with those on the front lines to make changes.

By working in this way, you can breed a culture that is welcoming of regular feedback and focused on incremental improvements. On the execution side, the data and insights you glean from your employees is what informs your decisions moving forward.

5. Kaizen

Kaizen is all about making small changes and operates under the belief that small, incremental changes are easier to make than wide-sweeping grand changes. Additionally, along with the relative ease of making small changes, the methodology is grounded in the fact that incremental changes will have a bigger impact over time.

Like Gemba Walks, Kaizen is all about employees making changes as opposed to management leading them. One useful way to implement Kaizen is with a Kaizen Board. These boards are places where employees can share their feedback and ideas and also track its progress.

If you want to digitise solutions, you can allow employees to use automation software to map out processes and run them. With access control, they can also oversee how their new workflow design has driven better results than before.

6. Standard Work

While it may not seem instrumental, standard work is the action of documenting all processes and current practices for a task or process.

It’s common for businesses to operate through training and letting employees move forward with their day-to-day without having anything concretely written down or shared. Although it’s possible to reap desired results, the chances of mistakes or issues arising is practically inevitable.

As such, standard work, as a practice in itself, can help improve how the company and its people operate because it sets the guidelines and expectations clearly.

Additionally, when you conduct other tools for continuous improvement, like PDCA for example, then you update your standard work documentation with said changes. Every new iteration of a process becomes the latest Standard Work to follow.

7. Catchball

As a lean technique, Catchball involves sharing ideas with teams and soliciting feedback. It’s especially useful when it comes to making decisions and devising strategy.

Having input from various teams and gleaning feedback from different perspectives allows for deeper engagement levels. When people feel engaged and a part of a change, they have more motivation to care about the outcome because their ideas were part of the solutions to begin with.

How to Succeed Implementing Continuous Improvement?

When choosing tools for continuous improvement, you may feel a sense of choice paralysis given the many different options. Have no fear – follow these best practices for continuous improvement implementation to make the most of it!

1. Go Step-by-Step

When faced with the desire to make a grand impact, it often feels like you have to do everything at once and make sweeping changes. Instead, take a step back and start small. Prioritise the changes you want to make. Remember, small progress can lead to grand results.

2. Keep it Simple

Many times, issues are actually easily resolvable. This is why continuous improvement methodologies are so useful - they help you to see the smaller picture and get to the root of a problem. They also remind you to involve your people.

3. Leverage Technology

Automation solutions exist to help better your business. By introducing a software solution, you gain the ability to outline workflows, monitor and analyse how things are working, automate and standardise processes, iterate and test, and increase productivity all around.

The Bottom Line

With these tools for continuous improvement in mind, you have what you need at your fingertips to make your business better. Since continuous improvement is focused on ongoing and incremental changes, it takes some time to see its effects on a wide scale. However, you have to continue pushing forward with the understanding that impact is happening.

Using automation software with advanced analytics can help you witness the changes, even small ones, as they occur. This way, you can move forward with confidence in knowing that your processes are optimally designed to reap the results you desire for your employees, customers, and stakeholders alike.

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