Businesses are always looking for ways to improve their practices. The history of industry is rife with examples of companies that once were at the zenith of success only to find themselves usurped by hungry competition.
But is it possible to structure a process of improvement at your company so that it aligns with your preferred management tools, team morale and overall objectives? In other words, can that process of improvement prove productive and worthwhile? Yes. There are many methods that have been developed to successfully seek out and act on opportunities to help improve your business and quash the competition.
When it comes to streamlining work and reducing waste in an organization, the continuous improvement business strategy is lauded for its effectiveness. But what is it and how can it be applied to your business? Good questions. Let’s take a look.
What Is Continuous Improvement Business Strategy?
Continuous improvement business strategy is also known as a continual or continuous improvement process. It’s an ongoing process to improve the products, services or processes of an organization. The improvements sought can be incremental over time or achieved with a breakthrough moment.
The delivery of those processes is in constant evaluation and change, so further improvements can be developed and applied. The ruler to measure these changes is the efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility of these processes.
Some see continuous improvement as a meta-process, such as W. Edwards Deming, an early proponent, who saw it as part of a larger system of organizational goals. But a bigger definition considers continuous improvement as a gradual and never-ending process that tries to increase effectiveness and efficiencies to fulfill a company’s objectives.
What Is Kaizen?
Some use “kaizen” as a synonym for continuous improvement. Kaizen is a compound word made up of two Japanese works, kai meaning change and zen meaning good. As a method, it can be traced back to the book by Japanese organizational theorist and management consultant Masaaki Imai, Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.
Imai wrote on three main points of kaizen:
- Feedback: A core principle of the process that involves self-reflection.
- Efficiency: Identify, reduce or eliminate anything that gets in the way of the process.
- Evolution: Kaizen depends on incremental, continuous development instead of a great leap forward.
Other Key Features of Kaizen
There are several other key features to kaizen as defined by Imai. He believes improvements should be based on building from many small changes as opposed to major change. Also, if those changes and ideas are coming from the bottom and rising to the top, as in, from the workers, then those ideas are more aligned to the objectives of the organization and can be implemented easier.
Furthermore, Imai believes that ideas from the people working on the frontlines of the company’s efforts are more attuned to how to improve process than an outside consultant. Consequently, employees should always be looking for ways to improve performance.
Imai suggests that making workers take ownership for their efforts will improve their ability to offer realistic ideas to improve the overall business. Strategically, he believes in figuring out how to increase the effective delivery for the customer and how flexibility helps achieve that goal.
The Principles of Continuous Improvement Business Strategy
While the principles are outlined in Imai’s book, they’re worth repeating.
- Incremental Change: Not a paradigm shift or invention, but slow and steady progress is the most innovative. It helps apply change easier, as well as giving the reins to the organization rather than having to respond to external forces.
- Employees Provide Ideas: Rather than management, the ideas for change should come from the workers, who are closest to whatever problems the organization might be experiencing and have the knowledge to resolve them.
- Incremental Change Is Cheap: Small changes are likely not as costly and will not impact the budget severely. The emphasis is on eliminating, not adding to process, which is less expensive.
- Workers Take Ownership and Accountability: By giving employees ownership of the process, they’re more invested and motivated.
- Improvement Is Reflective: The strategy of continuous improvement only works if there’s dialogue, feedback and open communications between workers and management.
- Improvements Can Be Measured and Repeated: Once a change is made, it’s not left alone but monitored and measured, so determinations can made as to its effectiveness. Therefore, if that change does work, it can be repeated or applied to other aspects of the organization.
Benefits of Using a Continuous Improvement Business Strategy
The overall benefit is in the name, continuous improvement. That’s a no-brainer. But it’s never good to take a concept on its word. What are the details, and how can it improve business?
For one, it streamlines workflows. By constantly looking for ways to improve things, what happens is a reduction in operating overhead. That’s a good thing. It saves time and money.
It can also reduce the cost of projects and help to prevent overages. When constantly seeking improvement and evaluating process, a greater knowledge of the overall costs for completing a project comes into sharper focus. If you can determine whether a project’s constraints are likely to break, you can plan better to avoid those mishaps.
Then there’s the flexibility inherent in the strategy. If you’re always on the lookout for ways to improve, you’re flexible. You’re changing to take advantage of opportunities. This constant movement, if it’s tethered to a well-thought out process, will reduce complacency and threats from the competition.
How to Know When to Apply a Continuous Improvement Business Strategy
If you’re looking to save time and cost, but keep up the quality of the product, then a continuous improvement business strategy is a good way to manage that difficult balancing act. By looking for opportunities to improve business and then evaluating those changes, an effective strategy is formed.
Some organizations are not set up to have their teams constantly practicing continuous improvement, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t take advantage of this useful strategy. For example, companies can schedule regular meetings to discuss ways to improve processes. These can be one-day events or last a week to dive deeper into ideas.
Whether you choose to adopt these techniques at every level of the operation of your business, or you simply make continuous improvement business strategy one more tool in your toolbox, there are still opportunities to reduce inefficiencies and cut waste.
If you’re thinking of working with a strategy of continuous improvement, then you’ll want a tool that can facilitate that process. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based software that offers a real-time platform for teams to collaborate. Plus, there are tools to monitor and report on the progress of the changes you apply to your processes. Try it today and see with this free 30-day trial.