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Continuous Improvement: More Than Just a New Year’s Resolution

Posted by Patty Thompson on Tue, Dec 06, 2011

Ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processesAs we wrap up 2011 and round the bend to 2012, organizations are cautiously optimistic about what will be waiting on the other side.  In this time of uncertainly, something that we can all agree on is our human desire to continuously improve.  We want to improve ourselves, our effectiveness, our efficiency, our companies, our client experience, our offerings.  We want to improve our health, our home lives, our relationships.  Heck, January 1 is when we all think about what we will “improve” in the New Year as we rush to commit to New Year’s resolutions!    

This year - resolve to make improvements, no matter how incremental, each and every day.  Let’s resolve to only engage in processes that support improvement and strive for constant positive development.   

There are many theories and methods that foster the idea and implementation of a continuous improvement process.  From Kaizan to Quality Management, each is a standard process that, set in motion, seeks to improve something specific.  Each also follows this basic process whether seeking personal or organizational improvement:

  1. Decide where you want to be
  2. Measure where you are
  3. Identify the gap
  4. Implement solutions to close the gap
  5. Repeat

According to Wikipedia, A continuous improvement process (CIP or CI) is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. These efforts can seek "incremental" improvement over time or "breakthrough" improvement all at once.  

According to Albert Einstein, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  

Given the choice between continuous improvement and insanity, we’d overwhelmingly choose to operate our lives and our organizations through continuous improvement…So, why are we sometimes insane?  Because improvement doesn’t just happen. We must plan for it, and it doesn’t need to be difficult.  In the case of organizational improvement, a support structure must be in place to determine the goal, gather the measures and identify where the gap exists.  The support structure need not be huge - or formal, simply there.  It could be in the form of meetings, focus groups, surveys, and discussions.  Start small and build momentum.  Some things to consider when gathering this feedback and measurement are: 

  1. What should we do more of (what worked)? 
  2. What should we do less of (what didn't work)?  
  3. Collect feedback from all employee levels on ways your company can innovate and set an action plan.
  4. Collect ideas from customers and vendors.
  5. Identify action teams who report to one leader who will hold teams accountable for performance.  

Improvements could be focused on a variety of objectives, i.e.: improving the customer’s call center experience, reducing wait time at the doctor’s office, making the concept-to-advertisement cycle more efficient or reducing error rates in the distribution center.    

Regardless of the process, product or behavior we are trying to improve, we must remember that we can’t stop - this is why it is called “continuous”.  Re-evaluate continuously and understand that nothing happens in a vacuum.  Each component, when improved will affect another in the system.  Be on the lookout for unintended consequences of your improvement - some may be great and some may need their own improvement efforts.  Either way, once the ball starts rolling, the positive change is addictive.  Get ready for a better you!

For more information on our continuous improvement solutions, please see “Processes” on our Solutions page.

For more information on how CSE can help your organization implement a CIP, please contact Holly Buckner.