Day to day business processes are constant for every industry regardless of size or level of scale.
Whether it’s to create new sales reports, onboard new employees, acquire new customers, track orders, or launch a new product, everything is made possible by a set of standardized mode of operation that everyone sticks to
But there’s a need for consistent, ongoing review of business processes because if your business decides to stay the same, refuses to innovate or evolve to meet growing customer demands or adapt to new changes in its ecosystem, an eventual collapse and stagnation in growth would be inevitable.
Studies show that a lukewarm or distant attitude to business process management costs many businesses a lot, not just in terms of monetary profit but also in terms of employee performance, productivity, and the customer experience they deliver.
A “That’s how it’s always been” and “Don’t fix it if it’s not broken” approach sets any business up to fail, and this is why companies in search of prolonged operational excellence can stay ahead of the curve by making deliberate, concerted efforts to improve organizational growth and adapting their processes to nip rising problems or challenges in the bud at all levels.
These measures are also known as continuous improvement processes or methodology — a concept that we will be exploring in-depth in this article.
We’ll take a look at what continuous process improvement stands for, how to implement a continuous improvement model, and why it is important to do so.
In this article you'll learn:
- What is continuous process improvement?
- What types of continuous process improvement models are there?
- The phases of continuous process improvement
- What are some challenges/solutions with continuous process improvement?
- How to implement successful CI across organizations
What is continuous process improvement?
Continuous Process improvement (CPI), sometimes called continual improvement, is constantly looking to improve upon a product, process, or service through incremental and breakthrough steps to improve efficiency and quality.
Instead of erasing everything you currently work with or have built your operations around, Continuous improvement allows you to make little changes to your processes that compound over time and give you sustainable results.
In the past, continuous improvement models were used in the manufacturing industry, with their central objective being to eliminate waste of resources and optimize for faster and quicker production timelines.
However, today continuous improvement models have been extended to several new industries outside of manufacturing with varying models designed to fit the operational goals of most businesses.
Continuous process improvement models
A continuous process improvement model is an organized approach to identifying opportunities for improvement to help an organization meet its goals for increasing gains, preventing waste, and driving innovation.
CI models can be used together, alone, or interchangeably depending on what the business goal is but with various methods to pick from, it can be difficult for an organization or business today to decide which CI model to use.
Still, it helps to remember that these models are designed to optimize work processes and make them more efficient.
So, Let's briefly discuss five (5) different continuous improvement models.
1. Kaizen continuous improvement
The Japanese word “kaizen” comes from two words “Kai” which means improvement and “Zen” which means good. This can easily translate to “good change,” “change for the better.” or, more widely used, “continuous improvement.”
The kaizen technique is based on the idea that everything can be improved, and small, ongoing positive changes can lead to significant improvements instead of drastic rigid changes. One of the many benefits of utilizing the Kaizen method to improve your processes is it increases employee engagement.
2. Lean & agile continuous improvement
This CI methodology is based on the belief that there must be no waste in any process. Also referred to as the “lean methodology,” this model focuses on reducing costs to as minimal as possible while increasing a business's profits margin.
It’s helpful to reduce operations activities that add no value to your business process.
3. Lean six sigma continuous improvement
The six sigma continuous improvement model prioritizes eliminating variability and increasing predictability within organizations. It focuses on driving a data-driven approach to scaling company growth and improving employee performance by creating a predictable and standardized process of operations.
4. DMAIC continuous improvement
The DMAIC is one of the most popular CI models and stands for “define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.”
It is a CI methodology that uses forecasting models to predict how a change will impact a business. It looks to improve existing business processes by identifying problems, coming up with solutions, and systematically analyzing the results.
5. Total quality management
This approach is customer focused and aims to ensure optimal customer satisfaction for every experience touch point a customer has with your business.
A benefit it has is that it allows employees to improve the quality of their products and services through proper feedback and research with customers.
To reap the benefits of experimenting continuous improvement processes in your workplace, try using any of the models listed above. Despite each model being slightly different from the other, Implementing CI models is broken down into phases for easier understanding and execution.
The phases of continuous improvement
Continuous improvement methodologies can be split into four solid phases: Plan, Do, Check and Act. This is sometimes referred to as the PDCA cycle, and it encompasses the building blocks of all continuous improvement models.
- Plan: This phase involves identifying inefficiencies and developing a strategy to address them, plus all the improvement strategies and metrics needed for tracking the plan’s success.
- Do: This phase involves implementing proposed changes first as a test run.
- Check: This is the quality-control and fact-checking phase of a continuous improvement process. Regular checks are conducted to ascertain whether the implemented changes are working or effective. This stage also helps your team continually monitor the process performance to find inefficiencies and eradicate them as well as track the success metrics laid out in the planning phase to determine if there has been success with the plan.
- Act: Once you’ve assessed the data and results of the test run and you are sure about pushing it on a large scale across the organization, you can now fully roll out the CI program as a new way of operations going forward. Rolling out changes within an organization can be costly, timely, and risky, so for this phase to succeed, everyone aboard the team must be a team player.
Benefits of continuous process improvement
Here is a look at some of the main reasons you must continuously evaluate and improve your business processes.
- It enables Increased productivity and effectiveness as repetitive and menial tasks can be automated
- It encourages better collaboration and participation among team members.
- It leads to less waste, reduced costs, and more operational efficiency because CI processes can reveal hidden blockages that could be costing you money
- It brings about an increase in customer satisfaction rates, which leads to a boost in profit margins.
- It allows for the development of a healthier work culture which leads to improved team morale, more productive and happy employees in your workplace, and an organic talent retention pipeline.
- Putting CI processes in place ensures you consciously monitor your business processes. You can easily track performance and notice what is working for your business and what is not.
- Continuous improvement processes are designed to help your organization improve products, services, or processes by reducing variation, defects, and timelines.
Challenges & solutions of continuous improvement.
Challenge 1: It is time-consuming
It can be hard to implement significant changes instantly, and to change processes at any organization takes time. You might have to explain things so many times before everyone fully grasps them.
To solve this, create pilot programs and take small steps to test the solution before pushing it mainstream. Also, use review boards where select team members are tasked with measuring the progression of things. Creating a performance metric or a KPIs system would also help employees track how well they are doing with adapting to new changes and speed up the process.
Use tools like Scribe to document processes you would rather not talk about a thousand times but still want everyone to be on the same page about.
Challenge 2: Lack of frameworks
Implementing CI strategies involves making changes. To support these changes, there's a need to create frameworks or established frameworks that can hold things together while the organization transitions to the new program. Some organizations are unable to find a framework that supports the goal they have set or create one in time causing a difficulty in adapting newer processes
Team leads or executives must take ownership of any problems that might arise from a lack of practical frameworks and address them without jeopardizing other parts of the business functioning optimally.
It would also help to create a flexible and easy to adapt framework going forward so that more changes can be made seamlessly.
Challenge 3: There is a need for a skilled workforce to implement new CI processes.
While having the will to effect change is good, if there is no skill to carry it out, it's futile. One major mistake that leads to these is poor documentation of workplace procedures, thereby creating a knowledge gap every time crucial members of staff leaves.
Enforce proper documentation system as this encourages the preservation of past, ongoing and future processes.
In addition to this, organize well-documented training sessions or more workshops for employees to find it easy to learn about the new procedures. If you don't already have a process for documentation, read more on how to get started here.
Also it's easy to create a process documentation with Scribe in a matter of minutes with just a few steps too!
Challenge 4: Building a workplace culture where continuous improvement is prioritized
People are usually resistant to change, especially if they are used to doing things in a specific way, getting them to switch can be hard. To effectively implement continuous improvement, you need the involvement of all stakeholders, and this can be tough, especially when you don't have every person on board with new plans.
Prioritize learning from onboarding through ongoing education to help build an informal learning culture. Communicate effectively throughout and even after the process of effecting a change, keep all stakeholders updated on the program’s goals, why it is essential, and the role they play in upholding the new system. This would help identify opportunities for training and staff empowerment as well as encourage employee participation.
Challenge 5: Getting customer feedback can be a hassle
Sometimes customers are uninterested in giving feedback, suggestions, or contributions, but when the changes you intend to make can go on to affect them, it's not advisable to ignore customers’ opinions.
Design and implement a process to collect, analyze, and act on customer feedback way before you need to ask them for it. This way, you can always have a source for identifying the problems that need improvement..
How to successfully implement a continuous process improvement in your org
Processes are at the core of continuous improvement, and improvement can only occur when a process is changed in some way, but how do you successfully implement new processes?
Here are eight strategies for you to utilize to increase your chances of success
1. Introduce huddles
Huddles are important to help teams gather around to discuss ongoing projects and how to solve problems that might arise from making new changes.
Depending on how you work, many companies use technology that allows people to participate from anywhere and easily capture the history of each improvement to help everyone stay informed on the status of ongoing transformations even after a long time.
2. Use process management automation software
These can be used for many reasons, like documenting each step of the cycle, notifying team members when an action is required, or measuring the impact of ongoing improvement.
A key one to not miss out on is documenting the processes as they happen.
A no-code tool like Scribe allows you to document each process easily.
No one loves process documentation. It's long, tedious and well... boring. There are a million and one things you can do when you use tools to automate your SOPs.
Scribe is a step-by-step guide generator that creates process guides in seconds. Just turn on the extension and go through your process. Scribe creates a step-by-step guide — complete with text and screenshots — in seconds.
Here's one in action.
And with Scribe Pages, you can combine Scribes with videos, images and more. Here's one that helps users ramp up on Asana.
One benefit of using Scribe is that you can quickly solve problems that arise from missing out on processes and new updates instead of going over them every time a person needs an answer. This way, you can easily roll back or forward to make changes to your process improvement without confusion, saving time that would have been spent on explanations.
3. Value stream mapping
Value stream mapping helps you create a visual guide of everything you need to achieve a goal, using images, videos, or flowcharts to document every step involved in a process. Thereby making it easy to visualize and analyze information or materials required to effect the change.
The benefit of using this during implementation is that it helps to paint a picture in the mind of all stakeholders of where you want to be and when they get that, it becomes easier to remove unnecessary workflows, and streamline operations that draw the organization closer to its goals.
4. Use kanban boards
A kanban board is a workflow visualization tool that represents projects in various states including “to-do, “in progress” and “done.”
They’ve been in use for a long time. Kanban boards provide your team with clarity during a continuous improvement process so that everyone knows the state of the program and there is transparency at every point. Kanban boards also help your team use a step-by-step approach to achieving its goals and remove bottlenecks that might slow down the rest of the process.
5. Measure your results
One of the essential phases of CI involves going back to check if the results you have tally with the results you were going for. Measuring your results is how you can tell if you succeeded, if there has been wide adoption or if you need to go back to the drawing board. To succeed at implementation, you need to track your metrics, actions, behaviors, and the changes you see from the beginning of the process.
6. Work as a team
There's a planning phase for any continuous improvement model you choose to implement. In these phases, look for as much input from relevant stakeholders as possible so you can check in with everyone on all fronts of your business.
The chances of success are higher when you work together because the core of CI processes is based on team cooperation and togetherness.
You might be unable to get through to every single employee so create a feedback system where they can directly give input or talk to team executives about it.
7. Break every process down
Implementing big, sweeping changes overnight can throw a company off balance and destabilize its workforce and customer base.
Even if you have big plans for long-term change, it's always a smart move to break your plan into small changes that gradually transform the business over a more extended period.
A real-time example of why CI processes are better done in small and gradual progressions would be the drama that has followed the recent acquisition of the micro-blogging site Twitter.
With a drastic overnight change in process and operations, the social app has suffered a few lapses or deviations from normal operations that have cost it severe business losses.
8. Be patient & keep repeating
The process of continuous improvement is an ongoing effort which means they can extend over months or even years.
Many businesses opt for the quickest approach, but it's important to remember that the Kaizen process is built on gradual changes that compound over time.
So company leaders must show patience for improvement methods to pay off, and the way to do this is to maintain consistency. It's continuous so it never really ends, things simply get better with time.
Now that you are here, It's important to remind you that the easiest way to keep repeating or create a flow of continuous improvement processes is when there's proper documentation.
Documentation enables continuity and everything you want to document for any process is made better with Scribe!
Scribe is a process documentation tool that enables you to capture processes in real-time with just a simple click and turns them into visual instructions; and no, you don't need to know how to code to use Scribe. It's easy for anyone to use.
See for yourself, create your first Scribe here.