The Fundamental Principles of the Continuous Improvement Model
More than ever, managers are facing many challenges on a daily basis : labor shortage, retention, high productivity standards, customer satisfaction, managing a team remotely, compliance with quality standards… What if we told you that there was one approach to overcoming all of these challenges?
First, what is “Continuous Improvement”?
It is a methodology that allows to constantly evolve and improve internal processes by implementing simple changes. The objective is of course to improve, but more specifically to achieve ambitious strategic objectives, particularly by continuously aiming to increase the value of the products or services delivered to customers. The approach seeks to eliminate waste, non-conformities, irritants and obstacles that the organization faces on a daily basis. And this, for all stakeholders; including employees!
Perhaps you have already heard of Kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, DMAIC, Kata, Incremental Innovation, CI… Different approaches, but the objective remains the same: improvement!
Principle #1: Give employees a voice (Bottom-Up)
Employees are closest to the problems; they are therefore in the best position to identify them and find solutions. To give them a voice will not only help optimize your processes; but will also empower employees and simultaneously positively impact their desire for change.
Principle #2: Implementation of small changes at low cost
One of the many benefits of Continuous Improvement is that everything happens alongside the normal and expected activities of the organization. In other words, there is no need to wait for a corporate change, a production shutdown or a product change to implement an improvement and have an impact. It is therefore not necessary to free up a huge budget for the various initiatives.
Principle #3: Improvements can be measured
To be able to conclude that a change has been beneficial within the organization, we must be able to measure it. Continuous improvement makes it possible to quantify different variables, such as productivity gains, non-conformity reductions, level of customer satisfaction, etc. Being able to prove that an idea has generated a positive return on investment can, among other benefits, serve as a lever to mobilize the various stakeholders of the value chain regarding their desire to improve.
For example, at Boulart, a single idea from an employee reduced recurring costs by $33,000.
Principle #4: Implementation of specific continuous improvement tools
Opting for a continuous improvement approach also means not having to reinvent the wheel. Multitude tools and approaches exist to ensure the maintenance of the various initiatives, lead to a successful implementation and make it possible to achieve the desired improvement.
Here are some examples :
- Kanban: Visual tool to send a signal about the capacity limit
- 5S Method: Based on five steps: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. Today, it is relevant to apply this methodology to find and organize the information and knowledge of our organization. In other words, no more files on your computer desktop!
- SMED: Method which aims to reduce the time for changing tools between two productions.
- Little’s Law: Principle according to which any work interrupted along the way will be less effective and will take longer than if it were carried out continuously.
How to differentiate the internal need between Project Management and Continuous Improvement?
Good point. There is indeed confusion between the two approaches; while they can very well complement each other.
First, any organization (without exception!) is made up of business processes; whether we realize it or not. A process is a set of interrelated and sequential activities that transform inputs, adding value to them, to produce something specific (product or service) called output. Each department or individual contributes to one or more processes. Be careful! A process is not a calculation method, nor a procedure.
Project management makes it possible to produce a clear and defined implementation plan. In other words, we know what product (or result) is expected and the steps to get there are directed by the project manager.
Your organization/team faces issues, irritants or struggles to identify minor or major opportunities within its processes. These observations are noticed from a floor tour, a Kaizen event, a process review workshop or discussions with employees following a dashboard review. Potential improvement opportunities are varied: waste reduction, quality standards, product value, work climate, employee engagement, productivity, collaboration, etc. In the case of Continuous Improvement : you know the goal, but you DO NOT know the solution; therefore, we remain flexible in terms of actions or steps to get there. The Continuous Improvement approach makes it possible to apply a methodology to identify the best solutions, obtain a consensus within the team and prevent the problem from recurring – for good.
We now understand that the link between Continuous Improvement and Project Management is that Continuous Improvement makes it possible to identify, with an integrated approach, the winning and innovative solutions ; while Project Management will then report those solutions in a concise plan led by the project manager.
Continuous Improvement is accessible to everyone. This methodology can even be used to target the achievement of ambitious strategic objectives. At Bambou Space, we believe it is important to remember that Continuous Improvement is not reserved for organizations that have it “under control”; it is for any organization that operates and/or delivers services, no matter how peaceful or hectic the internal climate is!