One of the aspects of continuous improvement methods that make them such an effective means of delivering operational excellence is the sheer diversity of available techniques, tools and methodologies. No matter what your business growth needs may be, or on what scale you are looking to implement your business transformation plans, there will be a continuous improvement model that will suit the specific context of your project.
However, this wide range of available methods can make it difficult for managers to know which process will work best for their organisational needs; when presented with a huge variety of options, it can be hard to choose the approach that will be most effective in delivering long-term success, improved efficiency and enhanced customer satisfaction.
Here, we will take a look at some of the key differences between the most popular continuous process improvement methods and offer advice on the guiding principles you should follow when selecting a continuous improvement technique.
What types of continuous improvement methodologies are available?
Finding the right continuous improvement model for your requirements involves evaluating the different available methodologies during the planning phase and weighing up which one will deliver the greatest advantages from a total quality management perspective.
There are various continuous improvement tools and methods that have demonstrated their worth in real-world business applications over many years. Each works slightly differently, and none of them are mutually exclusive, meaning that their various benefits and attributes can potentially be combined in bespoke configurations.
Here are a few of the most popular continuous improvement models, and their key attributes:
- Six Sigma – Popularised in the 1980s and refined since then, this continuous improvement strategy involves reducing product defects through root cause analysis, statistical quality control, and ongoing process improvement at every stage of the production line.
- Lean Thinking – Originally a Toyota production system, Lean Thinking utilises strict process control to improve efficiency and deliver the greatest customer value and highest quality, with the minimum amount of waste, lowest cost and shortest lead times.
- Lean Six Sigma – Lean Six Sigma is a hybrid continuous improvement model that combines the Lean Thinking and Six Sigma techniques, working to eliminate waste, foster employee engagement and minimise variation in output through statistical process control.
- EFQM Model – The EFQM approach to continuous improvement is designed to encourage employee involvement in a corporate culture committed to sustainable improvement and accelerated performance.
- ISO – Based on the quality management standards developed by the International Organization of Standardization, ISO standards prioritise customer satisfaction across all aspects of a company’s processes, product quality management and service delivery, as defined by the needs of the customer.
- Theory of Constraints – This continuous improvement method examines the entire structure of the business and its production process, visualising it as a pipeline or series of nodes to help identify, eliminate and optimise bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
You can find out more about these methodologies in our guide to the evolution of continuous improvement tools over the years. Businesses should be assessing each of these methods and their benefits when value stream mapping their latest improvement ideas, to determine which approach is best suited for their current needs.
What to consider when selecting a continuous improvement model
To identify which continuous improvement model is most likely to deliver the required outcomes, organisations should consider the following factors:
- Examine the way your business currently operates through a holistic assessment of all relevant processes. What is the organisation doing well? What is it doing badly? What are the areas in which the greatest improvements could be made with the least amount of effort? Where else can incremental improvements be made over time?
- Understand the key outputs of the organisation and how to improve them. Is the aim to enhance a manufacturing process, improve customer service , or change the culture within the business? Or are you looking to reorient the structure of the organisation in response to M&A activity?
- Establish the core objectives of the process management overhaul and what the focus of the project will be. For some organisations this will be to deliver fast results, while for others the aim will be to reduce product defect rates, achieve a certain cost reduction threshold or upskilling the workforce ahead of a key business transition. The chosen goal will guide the decision as to which method to use.
- Encourage employees to provide their feedback and insights into the current state of the business, and what changes they feel are needed to help the company to deliver its full potential. This process will help you identify opportunities to improve processes that otherwise would have been missed, as well as offering improvement ideas informed by the experiences of frontline workers and staff members.
- Consider which continuous improvement method best aligns with the current state of organisational development, as well as the business culture – both in terms of the current status quo and the desired future culture sought. This will also help determine whether there could be advantages to switching to other continuous improvement tools once the organisation has reached a certain level of progress.
- Make sure the organisations continuous improvement plans have been thoroughly explained and discussed with staff to ensure they understand them and are confident enough in the methodology to buy into it. Having everyone on the same page will maximise the chances of successful transformation.
Contact us today to learn more about the various continuous improvement tools available and how to choose the right improvement approach for your organisation.
As change management specialists with two decades of experience, we can help organisations from all sectors to assess all the available continuous improvement models and choose a methodology that will deliver the cost-effectiveness, efficiency gains and cultural transformation benefits they wish to unlock.
How we can help
Find out more about how we will help your company to implement a continuous improvement strategy that meets your needs, or take a look at our Insights blog for more helpful resources and advice.
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