You’re a business owner?
Good for you.
It’s not an easy job.
Keeping all those plates spinning is tough.
You need to keep your sales up.
You need to keep your costs low.
And you need to keep employees happy.
But these days, the crockery is piling up.
You have something new to worry about:
Competition is more intense than ever.
In every sector, rapid change is now an essential factor.
That means the plate is spinning faster than the others.
Your business needs to be able to adapt to the competition.
It needs to be more efficient and increase profitability.
It needs to improve.
How can you make your business processes more agile and efficient?
Last year, we helped streamline the packaging department of an eCommerce firm.
As they operated in online retail, they witnessed a huge surge in demand.
A surge equalling 40%!
But this was also a problem.
“We’re struggling to fulfill orders on time.
New customer information gets muddled and delivery estimations are far off the mark.”
Guess what happened next?
Yep, their customer complaints went through the roof.
But we had an idea.
“Why not focus on speeding up the packaging processes?”
We did this by encouraging their team to identify what was going wrong.
Yep, not the executives.
Not the managers at the top.
Not the people telling them what to do.
We encouraged a culture amongst employees of a new generation.
It was one of their junior employees that negotiated the best solution:
They were still manually processing customer data.
So, we swept in with some handy automation software to take care of that.
A year later and they’re still encouraging employees to improve the business.
(That’s the ‘continuous’ part.)
They’ve even racked up savings of $37,000.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Well, there’s a trick to this trade.
There’s a lot of principles, practices and possibilities to wade through.
And I’ve brought the wellies.
This article is going to break down:
What continuous improvement actually is
What incremental improvements can do for your business
When a business should implement it
And some of our top tips for successful implementation
Ready to make your business better?
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What Is Continuous Improvement?
How Does Continuous Improvement Work?
How To Implement A Continuous Improvement Culture
The Benefits Of Continuous Improvement
Does Your Business Need Continuous Improvement?
Before I pick apart how to implement continuous improvement in your business, let’s start with some definitions.
This is an ongoing process that frequently improves the processes, tools, products and services of a business with small changes.
It tries to improve efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
Companies that follow this focus on three things:
Innovating how they operate
Innovating their offerings
Engaging employees to improve operations
So, what’s a continuous improvement business strategy?
It’s obvious, isn’t it?
It’s a business strategy that implements the principles of continual improvements.
I’ll explain them later in this article.
It goes by a few other names, including continuous improvement process or CI.
Continuous improvement is associated with a few specific practices.
Kaizen is a Japanese word that means ‘change for the better’.
It is a business philosophy that can be traced back to the Second World War.
It focuses on reflecting on business processes, identifying waste and introducing incremental changes at a grassroots level.
The umbrella term sitting about this is process improvement.
Also known as business process improvement, it is a management exercise that uses methodologies to identify areas of improvement.
It analyses operations and redesigns them to make improvements.
There are 3 types of process improvement:
Lean technology - this focuses on cutting waste that doesn’t enhance customer value
Six Sigma - this focuses on improving the quality of business processes
Top Quality Management - this focuses on holding stakeholders accountable for outputs
But the continuous improvement process is unique because it creates a culture of self-reflection that enforces future changes over time.
Clearly, there are lots of ways you can improve your business.
But where does continuous improvement come from?
The idea of wanting to do better is not a new one.
It’s a basic human instinct, after all!
However, the concept of identifying problems, solving them and doing this continuously was formalised in the 1980s with the development of Kaizen.
I’ve already mentioned Kaizen and how it’s a specific type of continuous improvement process.
The development of this Japanese philosophy helped define its broader sibling.
So, allow me to take you through a brief history of Kaizen.
We start in the midst of war.
American producers of war equipment had to devote their attention to producing their goods quickly and accurately.
So, instead of big changes and large overhauls that brought production to a halt, they opted for small improvements.
Shaving a ‘couple of seconds on an assembly line doesn’t sound like a big deal.
But those seconds add up to minutes. And those minutes add up to hours.
After the war ended, the Americans shipped these ideas over to Japan.
They needed to rebuild Japanese industry, so developed management training programmes built on their concept of small and often improvements for the manufacturing process.
In 1951, the Economic and Scientific Section created a training film to complement their programmes. It was titled “Improvement In Four Steps”.
Translated to Japanese?
Kaizen eno Yon Dankai
Over time, Kaizen picked up speed in Japan as the go-to way to manage a successful business.
Toyota is one of the most famous examples of successful continuous improvement.
But by the 80s, Kaizen breached borders and became an international phenomenon.
Now, it’s just another methodology to enhance efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Question is, do you want to be a part of history?
So, we know what continuous improvement is.
But how it works?
Well, you might still be scratching your head.
I’m going to cover:
And the practices of continuous improvement
By the end of this chapter, you should know the ins-and-outs of CI.
Then, I can take you through how you can implement it into your business.
Shall we get started?
First, let’s talk about the aims of continuous improvement.
Continuous improvement has three goals:
Increase a business’ efficiency
Increase product or service quality
You’re probably already familiar with these ambitions.
They’re pretty essential when you’re running a business!
To meet these ambitions, continuous improvement sticks to several principles.
Incremental change is essential.
Slow and steady wins the race.
It’s even true in entrepreneurship!
Small, incremental changes are better for innovation.
Change is applied easier and the organisation can control it - it doesn’t have to respond solely to external forces.
Employees are behind the new ideas.
Your employees are far more knowledgeable of your operations than you are.
They’re the ones executing individual processes.
They’re the ones going through the same steps day in, day out.
And they’re the ones that know how to streamline them.
Do you want innovation?
Turn to your team.
And by that, I mean your entire organisation.
Incremental change won’t cost you much.
We all want more bang for our buck.
But what if I told you you could spend less buck, too?
Continuous improvement is about eliminating wasteful steps in outdated processes.
So, you use fewer resources in a process and get more output.
Do the maths on that!
This is actually the main reason we clinched continuous improvement for one of our clients.
They were an accounting firm based in Edinburgh and were always looking for new ways to incorporate technology into their processes.
But change is expensive.
So, here’s what we did.
We taught them all about Kaizen.
Once they got the practice of reflecting on their processes daily into motion, their employees could conjure up new ways of working.
Then, we programmed the changes into the project management software we built for them.
Up by 17%.
Down by 23%.
Your employees take ownership for change.
If your workers lead the charge, they need to take accountability for it.
But this doesn’t just encourage incremental change.
You know, that thing that’s essential for continuous improvement?
It motivates them to engage with their work.
That means their more productive during the 9-to-5.
And that means your efficiency gets even better.
Operational improvements require reflection.
Looking back isn’t very inspiring.
You certainly won’t find it on a fridge magnet.
But if you want to move forward, sometimes you have to step back.
Continuous improvement only works if your entire team reflects on their processes.
You need open dialogue across your organisation.
And you need frequent feedback between employees and management.
Only then can new changes be identified and implemented.
The improvements can be measured and repeated.
It’s in the name:
Continuous improvement needs to be, well, continuous!
So, the changes need to be monitored to determine how effective they are.
And if that change measures up, it can be repeated.
Makes sense, right?
So, that’s the principles of continuous improvement.
But what do they look like in practice?
There are a few core practices at the heart of implementing continuous improvement.
Being transparent with employees and the public about your operational goals and performance
Sharing knowledge regarding best practices across the organisation
Ensuring all employees - from senior executives to interns - are including their perspectives
Now we’ve covered the core elements of continuous improvement, we can go through how to introduce it to your organisation.
How hard can it be?
A few months ago, we started talks with a new client.
They were an agricultural company based in Sussex that produced organic and vegan foods.
They wanted us to build them some software to streamline their admin process.
They relied on lots of manual labourers so needed a tool that could automate the scheduling of shifts and organise food production.
One month after we deployed their new system, they came back for more.
But this time, we didn’t offer to build new software.
We told their CEO about something called ‘Kaizen’.
They’d heard of it before.
(LinkedIn can’t get enough of it.)
But they’d always failed to implement it correctly.
“It just doesn’t seem worth the hassle of trying all these different methods…
And then you have to start training everyone…
I want to know exactly how to go about starting continuous improvement.”
We’ve talked to loads of executives that run into this same issue:
There are too many methodologies to choose from!
Let’s quash your confusion.
I’ve lined up all the methodologies to choose from.
All you have to do is find the one that fits and get implementing!
Let’s get started.
#1 - DMAIC
This is a go-to methodology that any business can use to their advantage.
It’s pretty simple to use, too.
‘DMAIC’ is an acronym for the different phases of continuous improvement.
D - define an opportunity for improvement
M - measure process data for documentation
A - analyse the causes of the problems
I - outline the steps to improve the process
C - monitor change to identify improvements
#2 - Kaizen
I’ve already mentioned Kaizen.
(I mean, it really is awesome.)
Its principles are similar to that of continuous improvement.
But it emphasises cutting back on waste just as much as employee-level change.
Following Kaizen is all about adopting its core principles.
But organisations that follow it utilise specific practices, too.
They’re called ‘Kaizen events’.
They are these brainstorming sessions that can either be daily or infrequently.
During these events, your team could be:
Learning the principles of Kaizen
Defining the problem
Developing a future state
Developing a future plan
They are used when a problem needs an instant solution, when you need to hit certain goals, or if you just haven’t done one in a while.
Kaizen events are based on something called the ‘PDCA cycle’.
Just like DMAIC, it’s a simple acronym:
Check (to ensure objectives are being met)
Act (to look for new improvement opportunities)
#3 - ‘The 5 Whys’
This one’s easy.
All you have to do is ask your team some questions!
The answers should lead you to the root cause of the problem.
Then, you can navigate to a solution.
You take a problem and then ask 5 probing questions that reveal the true problems in your operations and not just the symptoms of the issue.
Here’s an example.
In 2019, we started working with an online retailer of novelty t-shirts.
They needed to sort out their customer service.
They were falling behind on deliveries and the complaints starting comin’ in.
So we whipped out the ‘5 whys’.
Why are the customers complaining?
Because their deliveries are a week late.
Why are the deliveries so late?
Because we had to correct mistakes found upon preparing deliveries.
Why are there these mistakes?
Because orders are being logged incorrectly.
Why are they being logged incorrectly?
Because we are logging orders manually.
Why are they logged manually?
Because we do not have the software to automate order fulfillment.
5 quick questions later and they basically came to a solution!
#4 - Value Stream Mapping
Time for the last methodology.
This is a process of visualising the product pipeline that connects several different processes and leads to the customer.
This mapping technique identifies delays and excessive inventory.
It also helps your team visualise the value-added to the customer - including the costs that do not bring value to them.
By now you should know what to do.
Still not convinced?
Maybe the advantages of continuous improvement will sway you...
I get it.
It all sounds pretty good.
But is it really going to benefit your business?
Are frequent small changes actually going to have that much of an impact?
Well, it’s worked pretty well for some industry-leading companies.
Ever heard of Amazon?
What about Toyota or Dell?
Yep, they’ve put it to good use.
If you want to follow suit, listen up.
Let’s go through the advantages continuous improvement can provide your business.
Better Product Quality
One of the first symptoms of inefficiency is shoddy workmanship.
A product gets shipped off with a defect.
Or a piece of machinery stops working correctly - but it doesn’t get noticed ‘til a week later.
We’ve all been there.
But when your team is trained to spot these errors and correct them as a team, your production doesn’t have to suffer.
And who doesn’t want their products and services to be of better quality?
Every workflow can do with streamlining.
Each process and each product can be made more efficient.
And that, in turn, cuts down your costs.
Plus, by enforcing the principles of continuous improvement across your entire organisation…
All employees are empowered to find faster, more effective ways of doing things.
And we all know improved employee morale creates a culture brimming with efficiency.
It’s simple math:
If your team is more productive, you can sell more goods.
Plus, if they produce more in less amount of time, it costs less, too.
Add it all together, and your profitability is shaping up nicely.
Don’t forget the fewer resources you’ll end up using, as well!
Continuous improvement aims to cut back on waste.
That means your spending dwindles even further.
Who doesn’t want that?
Improved Employee Satisfaction
Above all, continuous improvement is about culture:
Culture that includes every employee
Culture that invites criticism
Culture that encourages feedback
By forging a new culture celebrating dialogue and innovation, employee morale and motivation will go through the roof.
The future of your business doesn’t have to lie with the executives.
It should be lead by your employees.
Improved Customer Satisfaction
The customer is always right, right?
That means they should be the first thing on your mind.
Every process and every product should be tailored to making them happy.
If not, how are you still in business?
Higher efficiency and better quality products should do the trick.
After all, if you can streamline customer service and enhance the customer experience, you’ll be sure to boost your sales.
Let me guess:
You know that continuous improvement is the next big thing in business.
And you want to do it NOW!
Should you do it now?
Do you even need it?
When should businesses consider applying it?
Woah, woah, woah!
I’ve got you covered.
I’ve compiled a checklist of signs that your business needs to adopt continuous improvement.
Here's what you need to look out for:
You want to save time and money whilst maintaining product quality
You can have frequent meetings to brainstorm new ideas with your entire team
You have managers spanning the entire organisation that can communicate with every employee
Inefficiency is starting to have negative effects on your operations
Does this match up with your business?
Then go ahead, and start plotting your new strategy.
(Don’t forget to apply some of the top tips you learnt in this article!)
Still not sure if it’s for you?
It’s time to pass it over to the experts.
Talk to the Automation Experts!
By now you should know:
What continuous improvement is
How it can transform your business’ culture
And how to implement it into your business
No big deal, right?
When you’re ready to transform your operations, we’ll be ready to help.
Discover how your company can reach hyper growth with the power of automation.