Continuous Improvement Process

Continuous Improvement Process

In a quality organization, quality is a never ending quest and continuous improvement process (CIP) is a never ending effort to improve products, services or processes by discovering and eliminating the main causes of problems. Continuous improvement process accomplishes this by using small-steps improvements (incremental improvements over time), rather than implementing one huge improvement (breakthrough improvement) all at once. Organization having faith in CIP, continuously evaluate and improve products, services or processes with respect to quality, efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility. CIP provides many measures for gauging how well an organization is meeting the needs of its customers.

CIP provides organizations a method for analyzing how work is currently being done and how processes can be improved to do the job more efficiently and effectively on an ongoing basis.  Organizations implementing CIP are to ensure the efforts for CIP implementation are aligned with the goals of the organization. There are several approaches and schools of thought for CIP. Most important of these are given below:

  • Lean – This approach is evolved with increased voice of customer value added focus from Just-In-Time (JIT) principle. This has been initially practiced in the manufacturing industry.
  • Six-Sigma – This approach has been evolved from Shewhart, Deming and Juran’s statistical quality control and total quality management focus upon satisfying customer expectations across multiple sectors.
  • Theory of constraints – This approach has been evolved through continual refinement by Eli Goldratt to a present stage of advanced planning capability through critical chain functionality.

These schools of performance improvements have been separately and collectively proven to be useful in last two decades in many organizations. Communication and information management is also critical to CIP but it is not mandatory for goal achievement.

Key features of CIP

Key features of CIP are given below:

  1. Improvements are based on many, small changes rather than the radical changes that might arise from R&D activities.
  2. As the ideas come from the employees themselves, they are less likely to be radically different, and therefore easier to implement.
  3. Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes.
  4. The ideas come from the talents of the existing employees, as opposed to using research, consultants or equipment – any of which could be very expensive.
  5. All employees should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance.
  6. It helps encourage employees to take ownership for their work, and can help reinforce team working, thereby improving employee’s motivation.

Essentials for CIP

The following is the essentials for the effective implementation of the CIP

  1. An established infrastructure to support the CIP implementation. The CIP infrastructure should consist of a lead person, steering committee, support team and work groups as appropriate. Peers groups should also be used to strengthen performance along the functional area.
  2. There should be result oriented goals which are strategically aligned, relate to the organization mission and values and which adds to real customer value.
  3. There should be thorough problem Definition, Measurement, Analysis, Improvement and Control (DMAIC) within a logical CIP plan of action for all initiatives and various projects under CIP.
  4. There should be strong and continuously visible commitment from the top management of the organization. This commitment should stress and support a CIP culture of innovation and teamwork.

CIP Principles

Several principles have been evolved from the organizations that have been engaged in the planning and implementation of CIP. The following principle reflects the current thinking of CIP.

  1. Determine the current status of products, services or processes using objective (fact based) analysis of the data.
  2. The problems are to be analyzed as a variation from a known or expected standard.
  3. Set a goal to holistically improve the entire system and avoid sub optimization through isolated focus on process sub elements.
  4. Focus on the people, processes, machines and systems that add value.
  5. Improve processes through continuous controlled experimentation.
  6. Decisions are to be made keeping in front long term improvement perspective.
  7. Suppliers, customers and other stake holders are to taken as partners in the journey towards CIP.

The objectives and long term plans of an organization can provide the foundation and building blocks for a strong and institutionalized CIP culture in the organization. In such organizations should implement the following:

  • The organization should have effective methods for identifying processes whose improvement would most benefit the long term plan of the organization.
  • The organization should train its employees to perform CIP analyses in a formal way.
  • The organization should focus on knowledge management and sharing information including the lessons learnt
  • The organization should provide a forum for the cross fertilization and exchange of ideas and techniques. One such example is quality circle.

CIP Culture

A supportive and innovative culture must underlie the formal framework. In CIP culture everyone should have an unshakable belief that there is always a better way to get the things done. Many core values are important in a CIP culture. These should be recognized and developed throughout the organization. These core values are described below.

  • Mutual trust and respect within the organization and extended beyond the four walls of the organization
  • The voice of the customer should be kept in the fore front in mind all the times.
  • To use dissatisfaction with the status quo to continually drive further performance improvement.
  • Always being conscious of the total cost of the CIP actions as they impact customer value and the organization.
  • To stay receptive to new CIP concepts and tools as they might evolve and become applicable. The organizations should avoid becoming locked in on a single school of thought that may preclude other useful approaches and perspectives.

CIP deployment cycle

The CIP concepts are put into practice through a disciplined CIP deployment approach that should change how we view and think about work. It should provide a customer satisfaction focus which is value driven and not task driven. The values are to be defined by the customer. Processes are to be viewed in the context of customer expectations and requirements, process environments, resource requirements and the technology. The CIP deployment cycle is given in Fig 1.

Continuous improvement process

Fig 1 CIP deployment cycle

Managing Change

Managing of the change process is an integral element in the successful implementation of the CIP. The following are important for the systematic change management.

  1. Educate the key senior management personnel of the organization regarding the concept of the CIP, the roles and responsibilities of the employees directly involved in the CIP implementation in the organization, initial and long term decisions critical for successful change and the importance of the change.
  2. Challenge the status quo. The competitive benefits of the change are to be empirically demonstrated.
  3. The commitment of the key senior management personnel is to be given on the need for change, the objectives necessary to implement that change and the course of action to begin implementing the change.
  4. Educate and train the team leaders in defining the new standards for success and creating the mechanisms necessary to set new expectations and to generate results.
  5. Educate the employees of the organization to manage the transition from the old culture to the new culture and to assume new role during the change.
  6. Educate and train all the employees and the management of the organization about the new standards and expectations. The investment in this process saves difficulties downstream and helps to ensure a successful process. After all CIP is the responsibility of everyone.

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