The Culture of Continuous Improvement

Whether you’re a giant of industry or a team of one just getting started out, invariably there will come a time in which you’ll need to take a look at internal processes and find the areas that can be improved to keep things ticking along. But where to start? In either case it could seem like a mammoth undertaking with no end in sight as you may feel like once one change has been made another should follow, but a formulated approach can start to make things look much more manageable if you know where it is you need to direct your focus.

Trying to tackle everything at once will unlikely give the results you’re looking for, the oversimplification of your processes may mean that something is missed along the way, as changing one process may have a big impact on others that rely on it. The first step is to identify where an improvement needs to be made and taking a measured approach to doing so, simply diving in and trying to tackle a process head on may lead you to discover it wasn’t the root cause of an issue in the first place. Understanding that not every process change needs to be a major one, and that minor changes can have just as much impact is the first step to continuous improvement in your business.

Depending on the size of your business, you may not know every process for each area of your business, and so a technique of Business Process Mapping is employed. Creating a flowchart to breakdown your processes and each step involved – from here the process improvement moves to the deming cycle (known as PDCA) plan, do, check, act. From here, it’s ensuring that any changes that are made stick. Many will utilise business process management software, which creates a digital visualization of the process and assigns tasks where necessary – these systems also allow updates to be made within the software whenever they’re made to the process out of system, and as such whenever smaller changes are made the entire process isn’t repeated – just updated and distributed in to the workflow.

Understanding the processes involved is one thing however, creating a culture for continuous process improvement is another. Trying to tackle any process improvement as a solo effort is unlikely to make any lasting change, and after all as the company grows it’s likely your employees know the processes much more in depth. Ensuring the efforts are started from top-down, and showing that all suggestions are valued and considered creates an environment that rewards improvement and encourages further suggestion. 

Once you’ve got the ball rolling, it will keep itself going. Your employees are great for making small, incremental improvements as they handle the day to day and are encouraged to talk about these changes. Seeing where these smaller changes are made can aid with the bigger picture and lead to more complex breakthrough changes being made. An environment in which incremental changes are made with breakthrough innovations coming where possible will ensure your company is running efficiently and employing these strategies where your competition aren’t will be what can give you the edge.