Good businesses are always seeking ways to refine what they do, enhance their profitability, and pursue the most effective route to sustainable growth. World-class operations work to the principle that no process can ever be declared perfect but can always be improved. Improvement, however, is relative and will shift over time – what excellence looks like today will probably have changed by tomorrow.
Continuous improvement (CI) is the endless pursuit to improve products, services and processes, through sound strategy, a focus on customer value and the empowerment of people at every level of the organisation, by continuously assessing ways to improve operations.
The result is a creative mixture of incremental improvement achieved over time, and breakthrough improvement achieved all at once.
What is continuous improvement in business, and how does it work?
The overall CI principle can be simply defined – it is the process through which an organisation works to continually improve all aspects of what it does and how it operates.
Among the most widely used tools for the continuous improvement model is a four-step quality assurance method: the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle:
- Plan: Identify an opportunity and plan for change.
- Do: Implement the change on a small scale.
- Study: Use data to analyse the results of the change and determine whether it made a difference.
- Act: If the change was successful, implement it on a wider scale and continuously assess your results. If the change did not work, begin the cycle again.
Other widely used approaches include Lean, Six Sigma and Agile, which emphasise employee involvement and teamwork while measuring and systematising processes, to reduce variation, minimise defects and improve cycle times. Ultimately, these approaches help to deliver better products and services by facilitating the following:
- Regularly reviewing internal tools and processes
- Streamlining the structure of the business
- Identifying efficiencies and ways to reduce waste
- Upskilling the workforce
- Expanding the knowledge base of the management team
- Aligning the working culture with the company’s goals and values
Exactly what this process looks like will vary from company to company, depending on the industry and the specific challenges they face. However, what marks out a formalised CI plan from a piecemeal approach to incremental change is the willingness to create and implement a unified approach to organisation-wide improvement.
Through its various elements, a CI plan is ultimately designed to embed a culture of self-sustainable improvement in the ongoing pursuit of excellence. This includes:
- Carrying out a comprehensive review of your organisation’s current challenges, to identify the root-causes of any existing problems and operational limitations, whilst identifying opportunities for improvement
- Assessing the company’s financial performance, spending priorities and investment strategy, to identify and prioritise opportunities for efficiency, productivity, and quality enhancement
- Developing a transparent and measurable roadmap for improvement, which will be communicated across the whole company. This will include clear metrics for how success will be measured, and explain the logic behind each of the company’s chosen targets and objectives
- Encouraging greater knowledge-sharing and communication throughout the business, empowering staff at all levels to present their suggestions on how the business can improve, and the requisite support to make it happen
- Transferring knowledge and building capability to assist staff to augment their skills and expertise
- Embedding a culture of change across your entire organisation, securing the buy-in of your team by communicating the benefits of continuous improvement, and demonstrating how staff can become part of this change
- Monitoring the performance of CI initiatives over time, making changes and refinements to your transformational strategy according to what works best, and adjusting the evolving realities of your chosen marketplace.
To achieve the best results, many organisations choose to work with a dedicated business transformation and change management specialist such as Linea, to benefit from external perspectives and best practice expertise.
What are the benefits of continuous improvement?
If implemented correctly, your CI programme will deliver significant benefits to your entire organisation in the short, medium and long term. These include:
- Improved efficiency and productivity across the entire organisation
- Lower costs and better targeted spending, leading to improved return on investment
- Reduced wastage in terms of time and resources
- Higher-quality products and service delivery, ensuring greater customer and client satisfaction
- Increased employee engagement and job satisfaction
- Steady growth in your workforce and management team’s expertise and knowledge, enabling better decision-making and easier long-term succession planning
- Improved flexibility and agility, making the company more responsive and able to adapt to changing industry conditions and trends
- Greater unity across the organisation, with all team members working together to deliver a single coherent and proven business methodology
For these reasons, continuous improvement in business should be considered a key priority for any organisation, whether you are looking to transform the fortunes of a company in transition or consolidate the success of an industry-leading enterprise.
At Linea, we help businesses to outperform the competition through a continuous improvement process, leveraging our expertise in process improvement and efficiency. Our team utilises operational excellence methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma, EFQM and Agile to drive a continuous improvement cycle, enhancing performance and efficiency across frontline operations and corporate support services.
Our services comprise:
- Strategic alignment & deployment
- Process improvement & efficiency
- Procurement & supply chain optimisation
- Organisational development
- Workforce empowerment
- Lean Six Sigma programme deployment
Find out more
If you would like to learn more about what continuous improvement in business could look like for your organisation, get in touch with the business transformation specialists at Linea today.
You can find out more about how we can help your company to review and transform its operational strategy, or explore our various industries pages to see what kind of continuous improvement advice we can offer for your specific sector. Please call us on +44 (0) 124 442 1095, or complete our contact form to request a call back any time.