Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.
Continuous Process Improvement
Samidha owns an office furniture business that designs beautiful and ergonomic pieces. She wants to create new processes that allow her employees to innovate so that they can improve the products they are making.
Samidha is thinking about continuous improvement, which is a business technique that is focused on getting better incrementally rather than implementing large-scale change all at once. Businesses can focus their continuous improvement efforts on products, solutions, or processes.
As Samidha has already guessed, innovation is a key driver of continuous improvement. But how can she help her employees be more innovative, and how can she implement a continuous process improvement for innovation? To help her out, let's take a look at the continuous improvement cycle and then zoom in on the planning stage.
Continuous improvement sounds great to Samidha. Refining her business processes will help her organization grow. But how can she do this? Continuous improvement often follows plan-do-check-act, a four step process that allows companies to implement changes. The four stages are:
- Plan: The first thing to do is identify an opportunity and plan for change. For example, Samidha knows that she wants to improve innovation at her company. Now, she just has to come up with a plan for how to do it. Maybe she decides that she's going to incorporate regular brainstorming sessions. Now she has an opportunity (more innovation) and a plan (regular brainstorming sessions).
- Do: The second stage is to implement the plan on a small scale. For example, Samidha might begin by having weekly brainstorming sessions with just a few of the designers at her company.
- Check: Next is to analyze how the plan is working. For example, Samidha might find that the designers participating in the brainstorming sessions are more creative and productive. That would be an indicator that the plan is working.
- Act: The final stage involves rolling out a plan that's working on a larger scale. For example, Samidha might want to involve all of her company's designers in the brainstorming sessions if they're working with the small group.
Following the plan-do-check-act process allows Samidha to continually implement new changes to her processes.
The Planning Process
Samidha likes the idea of following plan-do-check-act, but it seems that the first stage is vitally important. After all, if you don't get the planning right, everything that comes after will be a mess. So how can Samidha plan for innovation and improvement?
The planning stage of continuous improvement has its own process. This process is define-discover-develop-deploy.
- First, Samidha must define the problem. That is, she'll want to lay out all of her issues and goals. In her case, she wants to promote innovation in her company. But what does that look like? What types of innovation does she want to encourage? Are there any limits on innovation in her company? These are the types of questions she'll need to answer in this stage.
- Next, Samidha should discover resources available. This involves investigating the environment and what tools or processes are already there that she can build on. For example, Samidha might realize that she has a valuable tool available to her: her designers. She can ask them what they do to spur innovation or what they think might help them be more innovative.
- After that, Samidha needs to develop solutions. Maybe she hears from her designers that they hold sporadic brainstorming sessions and find them helpful. This then spurs her to realize that regular brainstorming sessions might really help out. During this stage, then, she'll figure out which solution(s) to go with and how to implement them.
- Finally, Samidha is ready to deploy the solutions. That is, she'll iron out the details and begin to implement the plan. For example, Samidha will want to figure out when the best time for brainstorming sessions are, how long they should last, where they should happen, who should lead them, and so on. All of these details will be resolved in this stage, then she can move forward with the plan.
Continuous improvement is a business technique focused on getting better incrementally rather than implementing large-scale change all at once. Businesses can focus their continuous improvement efforts on products, solutions, or processes. Continuous improvement often follows plan-do-check-act, a four step process that allows companies to implement changes. Further, the planning stage of continuous improvement has its own process, define-discover-develop-deploy.
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