We all know how important it is to constantly improve and develop. But unlike the kind of impulsive, grand gestures we all make to improve our personal lives (who hasn’t signed up to a gym in January, only to regret it immediately?), the key to bettering your business is to have a clear continuous improvement process you can follow for the long term.
By making small, gradual changes to your business, you can create a lasting impact on your products and services. And though it can be tempting to chase the latest shiny fad, a continuous improvement process gives you more stability in the long run, helping your project teams to reduce inefficient processes, strengthen product quality and improve customer satisfaction. What’s not to like, right?
What exactly is a continuous improvement process?
A continuous improvement process is about improving the workflow in your business. That means taking the tasks or processes that are slow, pointless or just done “because we’ve always done it that way” and transforming them into something that’s more beneficial for everyone.
The easiest way to start is to get your teams involved in brainstorming sessions or interviews to identify any key problems across the business. It helps to be specific here – for example, focusing on the processes they handle on a day-to-day basis, from the beginning to the end. By carefully looking at each step in the process (and ignoring the assumption that every step is essential to the end result) your teams can help determine where there are problems or inefficiencies.
My business is making sales, so it must be fine. Right?
Er – not necessarily. So an analysis of a sales process might start with the salesperson identifying customer needs, then recommending products, persuading, negotiating and ending with a closed sale. Since a sale was made at the end, you might initially think that the process has been a success. But if an analysis of statistics across the business shows that customer satisfaction rates have been decreasing for the last year, then it’s likely something is slipping up somewhere.
With a continuous improvement process, you can identify problems and create an action plan that everyone in the team is invested in. If your goal is to improve customer satisfaction, focus on learning more about where the issue is and coming up with a solution: for example, issuing regular customer feedback surveys and being proactive about identifying opportunities for improvements.
If your business is more product-focused, relate this customer feedback back to the manufacturer. You’ll be able to improve the product’s quality, develop the design or capabilities and even find ways to streamline the manufacturing process – giving you (and your customers!) more bang for your buck.
How do I tell if I’ve been successful or not?
As W. Edwards Deming famously said,
“long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation.”
Deming was an advocate for the continuous improvement process, viewing ongoing improvement as a way of life for a business – something that should be embedded in a company’s culture, rather than an activity that had an end date.
But if you’re data-driven, don’t worry! There are a couple of hard metrics you can use to keep track of whether your continuous improvement process is heading in the right direction. And that’s where Six Sigma comes in.
Six – what?
Six Sigma. Sounds historical? It is – it’s actually rooted in 19th century mathematics. But thanks to one employee, it found its way into the modern day business world and is now viewed as one of the key practices for improving customer satisfaction and business efficiency.
Six Sigma first came about in business when a Motorola employee complained about the lack of consistent quality in Motorola’s products. A solution was eventually developed – Six Sigma – which tried to minimise the variables in a business process, whether that’s manufacturing or purchasing. The idea is that eventually a company’s processes should get to the point where they produce stable and predictable results for customers.
Companies on a “Six Sigma level” aim for no more than 3.4 defects for every one million opportunities. And a defect doesn’t have to be physical damage to a product – a defect is anything outside a customer’s expectations.
Is Six Sigma something I can realistically use?
Definitely! There are two main methodologies of Six Sigma. The one you’ll choose is dependent on the area of your continuous improvement process. If you’re looking to improve on an existing business process, you’ll probably want DMAIC. That’s an acronym for:
Define the problem and the goals you want to achieve
Measure the aspects of the current process
Analyse data to find the root issues or defects with a process
Improve the process
Control how the process is enacted in future
Alternatively, if you’re designing a totally new process, product or service from scratch, you’ll want the DMADV process:
Define the goals for your project
Measure the key components for your process or product
Analyse data to develop a number of designs
Design and test the process
Verify the design by running a pilot or testing with an audience
It might all sound a bit confusing, but the Six Sigma process is a great way to shape your business’s continuous improvement process. And if you need any more incentive, it’s been estimated that the Six Sigma process has saved Motorola around $16 billion!
Start your continuous improvement process today
Looking to make your business more efficient but not really sure where to start? Don’t worry, that’s where we come in.
Our experienced team at Infinity Loop includes MBA graduates from some of the world’s top business schools and Senior Managers from world-leading brands. We’ve all built and managed businesses, so we know what you go through – and, more importantly, what it takes to succeed.
Whether you’re looking to make broad-ranging changes or highly focused areas of improvement, get in touch with us today to find out how we can help.