Continuous process improvement is a major contributor to maintaining competitive advantage as you strive to have your business recognized as an industry and marketplace leader.
Business processes constitute a significant portion of the organizational costs in that many of them use materials, equipment, and people to provide outputs and services. Regardless of whether organizations follow the concepts of Lean Six Sigma, the Malcolm Baldrige Award, ISO Quality Standards, or some other model; they find that activities should focus on how continuous process improvement contributes to addressing interconnected factors that lead to accomplishing related strategic benefits:
- improved quality
- increased productivity
- reduced costs
- greater customer satisfaction
The Ongoing Process of Continuous Improvement
The more complex your organization is, the more the challenge is to create a strong and sustained link between strategy and work completion. With a strong vision of what business process improvement can do for your company, you as a C-level executive or as part of senior management make an important statement when you incorporate improvement initiatives into the company’s strategic goals.
Continuous process improvement is ongoing. It begins with ideas, networks, personal gains, and business results. However, you should not do continuous process improvement initiatives throughout the whole organization all at once. Start slowly, grow steadily, and make improvements with reason. A good approach is to begin on a small scale with a team, one business function, and one department, and then work outward to acceptance by the entire company.
Building a culture receptive to accepting new ideas, concepts, or improvements is not easy. The more positively constructive the buy-in is from senior management, the more likely it is your employees will follow that buy-in. Your success with continuous process improvement is possible when the effects of change benefit your business and employees, and when the effects focus on what matters most to your customers and management. As employees observe new practices that lead to better results; their credibility increases, which leads to employee commitment to embrace change.
Obstacles to Continuous Process Improvement
- Lack of senior management’s commitment to continuous process improvement
- Failure of organizational strategic goals reflecting continuous process improvement initiatives
- Uncertainty within the workforce of future roles
- Focus on fixing problems rather than preventing them; that is, being reactive instead of being proactive
- Lack of focus on business processes, policies, and procedures
- The absence of accountability for the documentation of business processes, policies, and procedures
- The absence of metrics focused on customer value-added processes
- Lack of communication, training, review, compliance, or improvement plans for business processes, policies, and procedures.
Continuous Improvement Tools for Making Better Decisions
Improvement is meaningless unless you can prove you realized it; this is done by having measurements in place to determine process performance results or impact. For example, three ways to demonstrate improvement are:
- By number or value
- By cost or time
- By cost of quality
Various continuous improvement tools can help you with determining these measurements. For instance, some tools are only useful when you have a significant amount of numerical data to sort through:
- Cause and Effect (Fishbone) Diagram
- Check Sheet
- Pareto Chart
- Scatter Chart
- Control Chart
- Flow Chart
- Run Chart
However, oOther tools are useful when issues you want to improve revolve around customer needs:
- Affinity Diagram
- Matrix Diagram
- Tree Diagram
- Relations Diagram
- Matrix Data Analysis Chart
- Process Decision Program Chart
- Activity Network
American Society for Quality [ASQ]. (n.d.). Seven basic quality tools. Retrieved from http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/seven-basic-quality-tools/overview/overview.html
Locher, D. (2011). Lean office and service simplified: The definitive how-to guide. New York: Productivity Press.
Page, S. B. (2007). Achieving 100% compliance of policies and procedures: Apply metrics and measures to achieve continuous process improvement. Westerville, OH: Process Improvement Publishing.
Straker, D. (n.d.a.). First seven tools. Retrieved from http://syque.com/improvement/First%20seven%20tools.htm