As businesses grow and develop they seem to get more complicated. More systems to operate, more people to serve, and more things to remember, all side effects of traditional success. If the business is in control then these systems will be documented and allow others to follow in their footsteps. The busyness and complexity however can put off the very people we need to get involved with our continuous improvement programmes and so simplicity needs to be sought when designing our continuous improvement approach.
When our approach to developing and implementing new ideas is simple we can see the changes taking place in our business. We don't have to wait for months or years to see something happen; we can experience it quickly, and sometimes immediately. When the process of making a suggestion through evaluation and into implementation is fast we can gain momentum from the people who give the suggestions. Complicated, centralised, improvement approaches kill this benefit. If possible keep you improvement activity local, sharing best practice as it evolves.
Complicated systems and ways of working can scare some members of staff. If the people you need to share their ideas are working at the lower levels of the business then we need to accommodate their level of experience with complicated systems of working. I'm not saying that only the senior levels of the hierarchy are capable of dealing with complexity, it's just that they are used to it and others have been spared this problem so far. If you want to engage all levels of the business with its own innovation then aim for simplicity in the way that you handle improvement suggestions.
Visibility is another key to effective continuous improvement approaches. We have already touched upon the need for speed, but being able to 'see' how the idea moves from suggestion to evaluation to pilot to roll out is important for most people who take part in continuous improvement activities. When an idea (that is considered to be perfectly good to the majority of people who have been exposed to it) stalls and goes nowhere it causes concern within the business. Eventually it can lead to apathy and people not bothering to share their ideas, insights and innovations because 'what's the point?' Like the clear Perspex side of a machine where you can see the parts moving, the process that ideas flow through within your own continuous improvement system needs to be visible and logical.
In summarising this short article I think the keyword for successful continuous improvement programmes is 'engagement'. We need the people in our businesses, the people who know what is wrong and what the opportunities are, to engage with the process. Whatever approach we take to eliciting improvement ideas, developing them and creating a new and more productive way of working for our business we need it to be fast, simple and visible.
Giles Johnston is the author of a short guide to implementing effective continuous improvement processes. It is available from Amazon for the Kindle App / reading device; http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007U78ISW
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