Continuous Improvement, or CI, is a very common term used in manufacturing (and pretty much every other sector). The word continuous implies that it doesn’t stop, but that is what I see time and time again. Most businesses that employ a CI approach do so because they have problems. This is natural and I applaud this approach. However, a business moving from bad to OK is different to a business moving from OK to excellent. When you have problems they are visible. When your business is doing OK there are fewer visible problems. This is when a lot of CI activity grinds to a halt.
I have three suggestions that might make your life easier should you wish to continuously improve how your business operates. Choose a narrow focus, make it routine and use tiny steps.
You may have seen a trend in this short report about routines. Routines can make a massive difference and including proactive idea generation and improvement activity is no different. Whatever method works for you to generate and manage improvement ideas build into your other routines. Make it part of what your business is about. Over time it will become normal and ‘the way we do it round here’.
A narrow focus can really help when you are trying to generate ideas. When you ask how to improve a business that is working OK, or no one can see any problems with what they are doing, you often draw a blank. When you ask how you can speed up the invoicing process you usually get a response. A narrow focus can generate ideas. Move your focus each and every time you want to generate new ideas.
Tiny steps are important to take the fear away of trying new things. Little projects and small jumps are good to help build confidence and gain information. Tiny steps are great if you are suffering from inertia and need to get improvements moving.
- Create ways to examine your business with a narrow focus. Combine processes and performance factors (speed, quality, delivery, ease etc…) to use as a focal point for generating ideas.
- Build your idea generation method into your routines. Make Continuous Improvement and exploring how you can make your business better a habit for the business.
- Use tiny steps to overcome inertia and help your team to gain confidence and build momentum with their improvements.
Author of 'Business Process Re-Engineering', a practical plan to improve business performance.