Continuous Improvement

Doing more with less – and doing it well!!

In today’s world of “doing more with less”, we are learning (or being reminded of) many lessons.  The economy has scaled back and the whirlwind days of fast cash are behind us for a while – at least until the next wave.   So when the purse strings get tight, how do you separate yourself from the pack?   How does your business withstand the lean times and gain a competitive advantage?

Some say that the key to success in these trying times is to strive for “Continuous Improvement”.   Sounds easy right?   Well, it can be.   Or, it can be the most difficult and frustrating cultural wake-up call your business has ever had to withstand.  Personally, I prefer to take the easy route…

So, what is Continuous Improvement, anyway?

Wikipedia defines Continuous Improvement as:

…an ongoing effort to improve products, services or processes. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once.[1] Delivery (customer valued) processes are constantly evaluated and improved in the light of their efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility.

Ok, Wikipedia.  Great quote, but what the heck does that mean? Well – simply put – it means that, in order to achieve greatness, you need to constantly re-evaluate how and why you do things.   This is especially true for repetitive or low value (but necessary) tasks.   You should look at your processes and ask yourself “Why do we do this the way we do it? Where can we make improvements?”

This is often referred to as Kaizen, which is the philosophy used by many successful Japanese businesses – Toyota being one of the prime examples.

People, Systems, and Processes:

I’ve always believed in the philosophy that People, Systems, and Processes are what make or break your success.  You have to have strong people – creative thinkers, self-starters, those with complimentary personalities, and role players.  These traits, together, are the makings of the most successful teams.  Mark Victor Hansen suggests what he calls the “HOTS” method for building successful business teams.  It’s a simple, yet effective approach.   Try this with your team and see how it plays out.

The next trait is Systems.  Michael Gerber’s E-Myth series is a great example of creating powerful business systems, so that you can focus working “on” your business, rather than “in” your business.

We’ve talked about Processes quite a bit on this blog lately, so I won’t dive too deep here.  Suffice it to say that consistent re-vamping and tweaking of your business processes is key to success.   Trim the fat (so to speak) from your routine procedures and streamline in every way possible.

Cultural Change REQUIRED:

Continuous Improvement requires cultural changeeveryone has to buy in, or it doesn’t work.   This is a philosophical change and must be bred into your company culture, as well as into new and existing systems.   People have to understand how (and be willing to) provide and accept continuous feedback.

All feedback must be considered.  This is true from the newest hire, on down to the most senior executive.  People at different levels tend to see things from different perspectives (novel concept, eh?).   The view may be “better” from the top floor, however, other floors may have a better vantage point for identifying problem areas.

Constantly ask yourselves “why”.   Kaizen and other popular Continuous Improvement methodologies recommend Asking why 5 times. By asking yourself “Why”, five times, then answering the whys in succession, you can quickly get to the root of most process problems.

10 Commandments of Continuous Improvement offers other great Continuous Improvement suggestions that may interest you.

These are the keys to continuous improvement (in a nutshell) and achieving peak performance or excellence in service delivery requires some kind of process improvement evolution.  

Remember to take small steps.

Get some wins under your belt before you take on the bigger Continuous Improvement projects.  You don’t have to be a hero on the first day.  However, even the smallest wins will be heroic to someone within your organization.   Teamwork and cultural change are the keys to success.  Starting small allows everyone to ease into this new mentality and ultimately can transform your business from good to GREAT!!

More on this topic later, as it is quickly becoming one of my passions!!    Good luck!!

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