Overseeing the day-to-day activities of a company can be challenging; from developing and executing business operations, managing employee, production, and financial costs to ensuring that all processes run smoothly and efficiently, the things you need to succeed as an operations manager is a lot.
However, the success of your organization relies heavily on you flawlessly executing your role and since you can’t afford to fail,
you need to understand how to manage your team projects efficiently by implementing processes that are actionable, adaptable, and repeatable across all team levels.
But maybe, you've always put processes in place; however, somehow, you can’t seem to get members of your team to put them into practice for long, and team members struggle to grasp your vision. Hence, implementation always falls through halfway, and you are back to square one with no goals or target hit.
Luckily, all hope is not lost, and if you have found yourself in this situation, it can be fixed as long as you can effectively execute a repeatable improvement process, one that is specifically tailored to your organization. You will be able to take your team from where they are now — Unmotivated, low productivity, disorganized, and lead them to where they should be — Proactive, efficient, profitable, and productive.
In this article, We’ll first examine the:
- Concept of continuous improvement processes.
- Why you need to implement a continuous improvement process.
- The PDCA and Kaizen continuous improvement principles.
- 7 steps to implement a continuous improvement process that scales.
- 4 signs to tell if you have successfully implemented a repeatable improvement process.
What is a continuous Improvement process?
Let's get real basic. A straightforward definition would be an ongoing effort to improve a present situation.
The word ‘’ongoing" is essential here — because it is not continuous if you do it once and stop.
Now, there are so many different names to call this process, but regardless of the name, they all arrive at the same thing — the process of identifying flaws in ongoing business procedures, revisiting and analyzing existing methods by either making massive or gradual little changes to improve performance and the quality of both employee and customer experience.
There are two ways to create a continuous improvement process:
- The Incremental Method.
- The Breakthrough Method.
The incremental method allows you to make changes little by little or as they arise to improve processes. In contrast, the Breakthrough Method focuses on achieving huge process improvements and is usually a much more significant change.
Why you need a continuous improvement process
To stay relevant, there’s a need to innovate around your approach and processes constantly, and this applies to businesses and organizations.
Some signs you need to implement a continuous improvement process include:
- When there’s an identified problem to solve.
- When there’s a need to test new ideas.
- Your team is growing really fast and you need processes that accommodate everyone.
- Your team is struggling to deliver on tasks, or there is generally low energy and performance across teams.
These changes are majorly directed to achieve some of these goals but are not limited to;
- Increasing company revenue
- Fostering better relationships with customers/clients
- Establishing better in-house operations
- Improving team productivity and efficiency,
- Reducing shortage or wastage of company resources,
- Creating a shorter feedback loop for both employees and customers
- Improved work place culture and employee engagement
Continuous improvement principles
Initially used in the manufacturing industry, Continuous improvement processes have gone on to be adapted across various industries optimizing for profitability, better performance and increased productivity.
Today, there are several continuous improvement methodologies that organizations can use to identify and make iterations. However, in this article, we will look at the PDCA cycle and the Kaizen method briefly.
1. The Deming Cycle, also known as the ( P-D-C-A):
This process was initially developed in the 1920s by Walter Shewart, a Statistician, and was called the “Plan, Do, See, model.” It was later popularized in the 1950s by Edward Demings, and remodeled to the “Plan, Do, Check and Act” (PDCA) cycle. The Deming Cycle model is easy and simple to adapt because it follows a step by step process ;
The first step in improving a process is to make a plan. In this plan, you Identify the problem and its root causes, examine all possible concerns or opportunities, and then come up with a strategy that involves weeding out the inefficiencies with the current system and a plan of action that gets you to your goal.
The planning stage helps you break down your objectives as well as all the tasks that must be done and the people responsible for each tasks, define deadlines and resources required to effect the new cycle.
For most people, execution is usually where things get complicated. And while reasons may vary, the next stage is implementing the plan.
During this stage, you likely want to record and monitor processes in order to measure the results you get from affecting the plan.
The secret to building a repeatable continuous improvement cycle is fact-checking and analyzing results.
In this stage, you take initial data before implementing the plan and compare it to data collected after changes have been made so you can ascertain the effectiveness of the methods being used. The goal of this stage is to help you check if your plan is working or not and if the changes you want to see are going on.
Based on data from the check process, this part of the cycle tells you if to implement your plan across all departments or whether you need to change the approach and begin again. If you don't get the results you want, repeat the cycle. This is why it is advisable to start with a small-scale pilot to avoid disrupting the organization should your plan not go as expected.
The Kaizen method is a modification of the PDCA or Deming cycle originating from two Japanese words — “Kai” meaning “improvement” and “Zen” meaning “good” — Kaizen translates to “continuous improvement.”
The Kaizen Technique Focuses on creating a work culture that encourages all employees to imbibe continuous improvement. This means employees should be able to identify problems, analyze them and come up with solutions without necessarily waiting for management and have the support of the organization.
This encourages employees to take the initiative rather than being micromanaged. It allows for a people-driven approach to innovation where everyone involved sees themself as a stakeholder and is willing to make necessary input.
7 steps to implement a continuous improvement process that scales
Often, things are easier said than done and as a result, explaining the continuous Improvement process might seem easy to grasp and understand. Still, implementation is where the work is and where most people fall off.
As it involves changing things from the old way of doing to a new way, you need to be willing to repeat consistently, make as many iterations as possible, or even start a process afresh. Getting your team to adapt to these new changes at the workplace would take a while as they would need help with resources, tools, and training for the change to be effected across all sectors.
However, it's a modern world, and tools like Scribe can help make implementing an improvement cycle easier.
This part of the article explains how you can successfully implement a continuous improvement cycle that scales at your organization.
STEP 1: Start with an answer to these questions
- Have you defined what needs Improvement?
- Does your team have a visual idea or at least an idea of what this process in practice would be like?
- Are they fully carried along on the process?
- Does the continuous improvement process you chose fit with your overall business strategy?
- What challenges are you likely to face toward achieving your goals, and how would you address them?
STEP 2: Get everyone involved & create an internal feedback loop
The chances of success during an improvement cycle double when everyone who is a role player and who would be impacted by the change is involved and carried along.
Everyone from the top executives to frontline workers must have an understanding of the new improvement cycle and be clear on what you are trying to achieve so that the entire business can pivot as one.
If you don't innovate with them, you might end up creating a process that nobody will adopt.
One of the bases of the Kaizen process is encouraging a culture of participation at the workplace. Gather feedback from team members and hear their ideas or frustrations on the current workflow process. Collaborate with them by asking for their contributions and opinions to achieve your goal or solve the problem at hand, especially at the planning stage of the strategy.
Creating a working feedback loop ensures every team member can give input, see that their input is valued, and further make for an easy transition to the new process and encourage new ideas.
STEP 3: Break plans into smaller bits
You're just one individual, and significant changes don't just happen overnight but are instead results of compounding effects from strategic actions, so to implement a continuous improvement cycle, you need to break your ideas down.
As it might take a while for people to fully adapt and adjust to the system, integrating new processes slowly yet steadily allows for every member of the team to catch up with the pace of things and transition better. However, make sure these strategies that break the plans into bits still take the business where it ought to be.
There are also exceptional scenarios where changes have to be made drastically and immediately; also known as the breakthrough continuous improvement process, discretion is recommended to know when adopting this is necessary.
STEP 4: Use Scribe to document the process
Creating a Scribe and Scribe Page helps keep team members aligned during an ongoing improvement project so that everyone knows the stage of the process, what role they play, and how far gone they are into implementing this change.
Scribe is a step-by-step guide generator that turns any process into visual instructions — instantly.
If you've ever suffered through hours worth of manual documentation, Scribe is your new favorite tool. Now you can train anyone on any workflow, without losing your time (or your sanity).
Scribe can document process for even the most complicated tools. Here's a Scribe that helps new employees get started with Zendesk.
By creating a Scribe, you adopt a show-not-tell method that makes learning easy. And with Scribes newest feature, Pages, you can combine Scribes with images, videos and more. Break down tough processes into bite-sized bits, and combine your steps with gorgeous visuals. Here's a Scribe Page that expands the Zendesk learning program.
It also ensures that anyone can come behind you, read it, understand and execute the steps successfully creating a process cycle that is simple and repeatable. You may want to use pictures, screenshots, or even record a short video to illustrate the steps involved and share it for employees to see constantly. Check out this Scribe to see how to get started.
STEP 5: Create workshops & training sessions:
Innovation is abundant in a culture that promotes learning. So during a continuous improvement cycle, consider creating workshops and training sessions for employees where you can break down the whys of the new process you are introducing to show those who will be implementing it why the change is necessary.
Trainings help your team expand their knowledge, skill set and competencies and allow the new process to stick faster.
You can have an in-person meeting or virtual meeting to train teammates... or save time and resources and just Scribe it.
STEP 6: Have regular check-ins with your team
After the training sessions, you need to make sure the process is gradually becoming part of your team's everyday work routine, and that team members are getting used to this. To achieve this, Create regular check-ins and key performance indicators (KPIs) to help keep your team accountable to the change.
STEP 7: Don’t stop improving the process
Once you see that team members are adapting the process, it’s not time to stop, instead double down on efforts to make sure you create a repeatable improvement cycle.
Always refresh to the start to look for new opportunities. Relaxing or settling into the status quo after one successful iteration means that by the time you decide to go back to the process, there will be a lot of new issues to uncover that have gone on for way too long, most likely impacting the company's growth.
By implementing and using the cycle over and over again, problems are tackled immediately as they arise, opportunities are identified on a constant basis, and the culture of the organization will blend in to embrace the idea of continuous improvement.
How to know that you're doing it right?
There are a few characteristics unique to implementing continuous improvement procedures to tell if you have successfully created a cycle of repeat improvement processes. These are four simple ways to find out:
- There are visible signs of improvements over time, rather than a single change.
- Data back the results, and evidence from past iterations shows that there have been major improvements in the way your team members approach workplace challenges or issues.
- The goals you have set are achievable, practical and realistic and you can easily identify what they were meant to change and how they've changed.
- Processes are flexible and adjustable. This means that nothing is set in stone as improvements happen on a recurring basis.
Finally you're here! We hope that this article has shown you that a continuous improvement cycle can be done — and how!
We made sure that every tip in this article is doable and actionable. And if you're serious about making process improvements, you can start right now with a Scribe to cut to the chase and create a process that guides your team to be more successful at implementing new ideas.