More and more businesses today are making continuous process improvement a top priority in order to ensure ongoing customer satisfaction while reducing costs and increasing profits.
While continuous improvement as a concept is pretty easy to grasp, putting it into action is a very different story. Practical implementation can be quite overwhelming, especially with so many different process improvement tools and techniques out there.
Well fret no more, because we’ve picked our top 3 continuous process improvement techniques to help get you started:
- Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)
As the name would suggest, the PDCA technique uses an easy 4 step process which is executed in an iterative manner:
This is where you define your process improvement activities. You should come out of this step with a clear understanding of what problem you’re trying to solve, what process changes you want to trial, what resources you’ll need and how you’ll be measuring success.
This is where you put your plan into action. It’s best to try and do this in a controlled environment or with a subset of people in order to keep a handle on any unexpected issues. Before you get started, ensure that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities during this step, otherwise you may have to start all over again.
Now probably the most important step – checking how well you did. During the check step you’ll evaluate the results from the do step and measure that up against the success criteria you defined during the plan step. This will help you to identify where you still have issues or where there’s still room for improvement.
Finally, it’s time to take action. In this 4th step you take the findings from the check step and define changes to be applied for your next iteration. And just like that, the process starts again.
Kanban is an easy visualisation technique which helps you identify blockages and issues within your current processes. The techniques involves stickies on a whiteboard which is usually divided into sections. The stickies represent pieces of work or activities to be completed while the sections represent different steps in your process. The stickies are then moved from left to right as they progress through the different steps. In this way you can track things like:
– How long are work items getting stuck in a particular step?
– How long does the end to end process take?
– Are there any steps that don’t seem to be adding value?
Once you have a view of your problem areas, you can start implementing process changes to address these and then rework your Kanban board accordingly. As with PDCA, the idea here is to run multiple iterations until you believe there are no further improvements that can be achieved.
- The 5 Whys
The 5 Whys is a root cause analysis technique that’s very easy to teach and put into practice. The process is very simple: Start with a problem statement, for example: “Process X takes 2 weeks to complete and is slowing down Y”. Then keep asking “Why?” until the root cause is revealed.
You may find that the root cause reveals itself after the 3rd why, or even beyond the 5th why, but 5 is the rule of thumb. When do you know that you’ve reached your final why? Answers usually start bordering on the absurd. Maybe something like: “Because that’s just the way things are”. If you hit that point, the root cause usually lies in one of the previously provided answers. Once the root cause is clear, you can start working on your plan of action to resolve your process problem.
Need an outsider’s perspective to help identify areas of improvement within your business or technology processes? Give us a call on 021 447 5696 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help make continuous improvement a reality within your organisation.