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9 Steps to implementing continuous improvement

Continuous improvement: Implementing it in your organisation

During the last 30 years, many organisations have learned how to start and implement continuous improvement programs, often in line with initiatives such as Lean, Six Sigma, Kaizen and more. The same continuous improvement methodology is seen as instrumental to the success of many forms of organisational change, including digital transformation, mergers and outsourcing.

Involvement is the key to success

To date, continuous improvement has been most successful in production and logistics organisations. The main reason for this is their ability to visualise the customer journey, which starts with a customer order and ends with product or service delivery.

Visualisation of the process is critical to the success of any continuous improvement (or change) process because it helps the employees/teams involved to understand the impact of any suggestion in the context of the complete process, and it is the basis for their personal involvement. Individuals know where they are involved in the process and what their task is at any given moment.

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9 steps to implement

However, a wide array of businesses are now embracing the principles of continuous improvement to deliver sustained, enterprise-wide change. So, how do you implement continuous improvement for a more administrative organisation? Take these nine steps to success:

1. Organise the teams in logical processes for your organisation. Define the processes for how your customers are serviced throughout the organisation; include people from each department involved and make all roles aware that they are the process team.

2. Make sure to visualise the process and let the team do this. This should focus on delivery requests, even for internal processes. Do this in a workshop where all process roles are represented. NOTE - do not map the process based on individual interviews.

3. No matter how much you want to focus on a new way of working, start with the existing situation, or as-is. This allows the teams to get involved and relate to the process.

4. Make sure to highlight all relevant exceptions. This will drive involvement for each team member and give clarity on what is actually happening. Also, often the best improvements can be made in these exceptional cases.

5. Allow the team to 'explore' the process. Flip the process around via swim lanes, zoom in to various details of the process (input, output, link with systems, locations, hand-over moments, etc), and run calculations to increase all members' awareness of what is actually happening.

6. Make sure you truly empower the team. Step away from traditional top-down management and let the team know that you empower them and that you and your management will accept their recommendations and charge the organisation to support and implement the improvements that the team identifies. This will not only result in successful suggestions, as the team will feel ownership, but also encourage a long-term focus on improvement.

7. Take special notice of 'low hanging fruit' for any improvement suggested by the process team. It is impossible to gain buy-in for large-scale change if the small pains individuals experience is not addressed. Also, the sum of all small changes adds up to a major improvement! Finally, these suggestions made by the process team can often be implemented easily, as they fit the process and are accepted by the team.

8. Use Lean/6 Sigma/Kaizen concepts to study and improve the process. What if we take a pull approach, take out waste, take out non-value-added steps, standardise, etc?

9. Make small iterations. After small improvements are suggested, stop looking for more and first ask the team to implement them. Next, get them back together and ask if the improvements worked as planned.

Celebrate and continue the cycle

Celebrate your successes! Communicate the success, even the small successes from small steps, to the whole organisation. This gives credit to the team and inspires the rest of the business. Then, take the last three steps:

1. Repeat for each stage of the business process, before moving on to the next.

2. Set up such continuous improvement activities in multiple processes.

3. Rotate team members from one process/continuous improvement project to others. They learn from one another and helps staff to realise that continuous improvement is the new normal.

Visualisation of the process and organising your team around these stages is the key to implementing continuous improvement in any setting.

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