How to Use Continuous Improvement tools in Your Office-Based Business Successfully

What is Continuous Improvement?

Per the Chartered Management Institute, they define continuous Improvement as

The seeking of small improvements in processes, and products, with the aim of increasing quality, and reducing waste. Continuous improvement is one of the tools which underpin the philosophies of total quality management, and lean production. Through constant study, and revision of processes, a better product can result at reduced cost. Kaizen has become a foundation for many continuous improvement strategies, and for many employees is synonymous with continuous improvement.

Chartered Management Institute

The Importance of continuous Improvement

Let’s not underestimate continuous improvement.   The way it involves people by listening to their ideas and gets their input generates a feeling of being valued.

Adding this into the mix and you will find people are less likely to want to move on because they can get their teeth into what’s around them rather than just skate the surface.

Employees also appreciate when employers care enough to resolve problems and issues.  If these are left then discontent starts breeding.

And by taking time out to review processes and get rid of waste it makes people feel like they are achieving something.  In turn it helps the business become more efficient and productive.

And who doesn’t want that!

I’ve often seen quick wins identified which bolsters morale and engagement.  This then encourages people with the longer-term wins to keep ploughing on.

Introducing continuous Improvement to your business

The main way of introducing the concept of continuous improvement is through:

  • communications,
  • reviewing processes,
  • embedding problem-solving
  • sharing the various approaches through training.

So what sits within continuous improvement activity?

Let’s start with communications.

Getting your teams on board is key.  Setting the scene by explaining what continuous improvement is, is crucial. Sharing the values of what is expected will help with starting this new way of working in your business.

It is vital to reinforce that everyone’s input is needed.  Explain that you are looking for your employees to highlight areas for improvements and to work with you on these areas.  Share how they know the work and their insight will make all the difference.  And then actively listen!

Once you start down this road, keep up regular updates and sharing of successes to show it works.

Talk about the goals you want to achieve.  Give regular updates as to where you are with those goals. And involve the teams in identifying new goals regularly.

Another thing to share is when you get a win, is how it was achieved.  This helps others in their groups get some lightbulb moments and potentially spreads best practices.

Involving your employees

This is key for success.  Set up working groups, involve teams and look at having representatives trained up as your” go-to experts.”  From personal experience having one or two people who can help with facilitation and share their knowledge starts to build the confidence needed.  If you don’t do this, then the embedding of continuous improvement will fail.

Once these are in place, get these people to take out an overview of what continuous Improvement means to the business.  How it will work and what are the benefits.

Then share training on problem-solving, quality, visual management, waste, and process mapping to get your teams and groups started.

As the leader make sure you are actively supporting and putting your weight behind this whole new concept. People will look to you for inspiration. They will only buy in if they feel you are supporting this changeover.

Where to begin with problem-solving?

Understanding the problems that are sitting within your teams and business is the key to getting going.

These will give you data and an understanding of where the key issues are for your teams, customers and suppliers.

Have any problems been recorded or are they just left?  The issues can really demoralise teams if put on the back burner.   If problems are still there in the background and nothing has happened, then start with a problem amnesty.  Get the team members to share issues that are bugging them and the customers.  Record virtually or send out a questionnaire that’s collated anonymously.  Alternatively, hold small workshops where every team member attends and is allowed to offload in a safe space.

Next, when you start problem-solving, make sure are you drilling down to the root cause. Another great way to start with problem-solving in your business is to use the 3Cs.  Here is a video on YouTube that will help to get you started.

And don’t forget to use open questioning to dig deep. Sign up to receive my problem-solving help card here.

 Once you have the data around the problems occurring look at:

  • Is there a common theme?
  • Is it one process that has the biggest issues?
  • What is this affecting in the business to a large degree?

Build a culture where problem solving is the norm. 

Next look at Processes

Having looked at what the problem-solving is telling you and what your data is showing you, is there one key process that needs an overhaul?

Once you’ve identified a starting process, you then have the option of getting a working group together or the teams that do the work to start walking through the process.  I would always advocate the teams who have the knowledge about the process with some key stakeholders.

Be aware you may hear statements like “but it has always been done this way.”  This is the very place where you need to spell out what the improvements could mean for the person and the business.  For instance, it will mean less mundane work for you as the person doing the work and less time waiting for responses back.

Using a long piece of brown paper on the wall to capture with post-its to map each stage of the process, who is affected, what is involved, and any issues helps to start to narrow down where improvements are needed.  It’s even better if you have any customer feedback including complaints and compliments that you can add.   If working virtually then you could use excel, a Teams whiteboard or a google jam board and hold the conversations virtually.  Putting people into breakout rooms helps with getting more thoughts heard when you need to drill down further.

Don’t forget you will need data to back up statements.  If someone says we get a lot of those enquiries, then you always need to back this up. I’ve had times where when researched it has only been a few.

And this is where your questioning skills will come into play.  Challenging why things happen is key to get to whether it is safe to change the way the process operates.  Is there something written in legislation, or does it affect other parts of the business?  Often people don’t see the bigger impact and tend to do the change in their area and realise later it has caused problems elsewhere. 

What potentially is needed to support this?

If you think about the person these days they want information quickly and to be able to absorb it easily.  This is where I think visual management comes into play.

Visual can be anything from taping areas off with tape that stands out so everyone knows what it means. i.e Danger areas taped off with red tape.  Hazards with striped tape to depict be careful.

Add to this mix a visual management board that shows:

  • How you are doing against goals and objectives
  • What is happening on a daily basis including priorities
  • Progress against key tasks
  • Problems recorded and what action is happening to resolve.
  • Process news/Technical updates
  • People news

In the office put the board in a centralised place, where everyone can see it and walk past.  As the leader make a point of asking questions about what the board is telling you. To get value out of the board, show its worth by holding daily meetings, no more than 15 minutes long. This will tell you whether progress is on track and whether changes are needed to plans.

Working remotely then just set up a virtual board and make it a habit to ensure the team update it daily.  Run a team meeting daily to discuss what it is showing. One thing I learnt in my operational day was to record bullet points of what had come out of the daily meeting.  Otherwise, they would get lost in translation when people returned to work who were absent.

Most of all remember to implement for each team and let them establish what needs to go on it for their part of the business delivery. Then have these feed into a central board for Senior Leaders to share the current position.

There is much more to visual management but hopefully this will at least get you started.

Finally, this is touching the tip of continuous improvement.  If you are struggling with implementing into your workforce then why not book some leadership and management mentoring to get you started and find out about the world of continuous improvement.

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