The Importance of Individual Continuous Improvement
There is this old saying that if something is not broken, you should not try and fix it. But is that really the case in the world of business today? Take a look at Steve Jobs and Apple. iPhone is not the first smartphone on the market. People would have been happy with a mobile phone as it was before the iPhone. They worked. No need to fix them, right?
Apple didn’t seem to think so. They “fixed it.” They improved on the already existing concept and succeeded., Apple strived and worked on continuous improvement. That is what made them one of the largest and most influential companies in the world.
Business today doesn’t put up with the status quo. You can either go up or down. Periods of passive dwelling in one position are getting shorter and shorter.
Innovation is an essential concept for every modern company. In other words, continuous improvement through innovation and process optimization is necessary for the survival of a business.
Process optimization usually refers to developing strategies that help businesses work smarter instead of working harder. Processes are always under revision so that all unnecessary steps can be cut out, profits improved and costs reduced.
While the company policy may be all about improvement, it will fail unless the employees do not embrace the concept of continuous development. Implementing this concept to a small scale, as well as to the company in whole goes hand in hand with Lean and Agile strategies.
Four Steps of Continuous Improvement
There are different ways to lay out a continuous improvement plan. However, one of the most efficient ones is PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Act. The simplicity of such a plan is one of its best characteristics. Effectiveness and sustainability are another two features that make it so brilliant. Let’s look into these four steps a bit more.
The initial step of every planning process is to define the issue that needs to be tackled and to identify the desired outcome. Once those items are off the list, you need to work out a plan with milestones that takes you to your goal. Timeline is essential for your plan even if it is tweaked along the way.
Plans are always a good idea, but putting them into practice is an entirely different thing. Unplanned and unexpected obstacles can happen and circumstances change. You have to be prepared to experiment, tweak your plan and implement things that you have learned while trying to go through with your plan.
Checking is actually giving yourself some feedback after going through with the preparation and the execution phases. This is when you should look back and see if your approach was effective. Explore the reasons why the plan worked or didn’t work and learn from your outcomes. If necessary, you can even go back to the planning stage and do it all over again. In other words, you should act as your own auditor.
After planning, putting your plan to practice and revising its outcomes, you have all the feedback you need for the final implementation of your solution. However, this doesn’t mean everything is set in stone. You can still make the changes along the way, but always make sure you have a good reason for it.
The real continuous improvement is what happens when you go through all the steps outlined here. As you can see, it is never just a straightforward approach. It requires you to go through with your plan, but also keep a close eye to its success and make the changes along the way. That is the key to improvement. This is the cycle of continuous improvement in a nutshell.
Implementing the Continuous Improvement Strategy
The four steps of PDCA are pretty easy to understand. The idea of continuous improvement is not that hard to grasp and it is appealing to everyone. However, implementing it into a business environment is not always a walk in the park, especially if the business’ decision makers are not aware of this concept.
Luckily, scalability is one of the great benefits of this concept. You don’t have to worry about implementing it into to core foundations of the entire company right away. It is possible to start small on individual departments or even individual projects until you expand them to other parts of the company.
It is important to start somewhere and get results you can present. When you have something to show for and the benefits are evident, implementing the methodology of continuous improvement to other parts of your business will be much easier. People will more likely embrace proven strategies than concepts which are still unfamiliar to them.
Benefits of Continuous Improvement
Obviously, it would be easier to implement the continuous improvement methodology on a greater scale if you can show the benefits on smaller projects. For that to happen, you first need to know what you can expect to be the benefit of this approach. Normally, a business may expect the following.
- Better product quality
- Enhanced efficiency
- Boosted productivity
- Reduced costs and waste
- Improved employee satisfaction
- Happier customers
- Improved teamwork
It is obvious that some of these benefits are related. For example, employee satisfaction usually means better performance. Increases product quality will lead to better customer satisfaction. That is just another reason why it is important to introduce continuous improvement into your business organization, watch it expand and enjoy its progress.