Continuous Improvement is a method for identifying opportunities for streamlining work and reducing waste. Continuous Improvement can be viewed as a formal practice or an informal set of guidelines, depending on the size of the organization and the extent of the Continuous Improvement initiative for it’s information technology. Traditional IT focuses internally on software, infrastructure, and even on what is commonly referred to as the “internal customer” or “business users” productivity. Continuous Improvement has since adopted a philosophy which focuses on the external customer. It is a culture shift whereby technology professionals understand the key business drivers first, and then apply technology to meet those drivers.
There is always room to improve business efficiency in an organization. In order to understand how to increase business efficiency and create a standard way of working in your organization, you’re going to need to capture your current way of working, understand where it needs to change, and implement improvements. This brings us to the 4 essential pillars of Continuous Improvement: Capture, Share, Use, and Improve.
1. Capture – The first step in the Continuous Improvement process is to capture your processes through process mapping, find the wasteful or broken processes, and work backwards from there. It seems simple, but you will need an easy to understand process mapping methodology that can capture your full end-to-end processes and a user-friendly process mapping tool that can show cost, effort, and time data.
2. Share – The Continual Improvement methodology and tools need to be user friendly because any process captured will need to be a process shared with anyone who is involved with carrying out that process. As there can be thousands of processes in an organisation with every employee responsible for different ones daily, it is essential that you can maintain a “Process Library” with easy access.
3. Use – Once access has been given, employees need to actually buy-in to the management system and use it. In addition, the tools and methodology must be clear and easy for staff to follow. New systems and projects supporting process improvement must be promoted within the organization. A process improvement community of practice can be instrumental in promoting process improvement initiatives within the organization on a regular basis to ensure that your Continuous Improvement approach has taken root, and for employees to understand that this is the new direction.
4. Improve – Process optimization modelling is essential for the improvement of any process. Capturing existing processes is the foundation of any change; to capture is to understand. The Improvement part comes when you are able to analyze the current process, find the bottlenecks or process breakdowns, and model potential solutions before actually implementing real change.
Continuous Improvement is premised on the idea that an organization should undertake incremental improvements as it endeavors to meet its corporate goals and objectives. It is guided by six core principals:
Principal 1 – Improvements can be based on small and business value-add changes, not only on major paradigm shifts or inventions
Principal 2 – Employee ideas are valuable in identifying “bottom-up” improvements (which are not always recognized by management)
Principal 3 – Incremental improvements that are inexpensive to implement but have a huge impact on your bottom line are identified upfront
Principal 4 – Employees take ownership and are involved in improvement to ensure “buy-in”
Principal 5 – Improvement is reflective, visible, and communicated to validate continuous improvement across the enterprise
Principal 6 – Improvement is measurable and potentially repeatable to achieve “real” improvement (and to determine if the change can be applied successfully to other problems)
Principal 7 – Streamline workflows to enable efficient workflows that reduce wasted time and effort (i.e. reduce operating overhead)
Principal 8 – Reduce project costs and prevent overages through effective forecasting (versus estimating)
Sacrificing quality can rarely be justified by the ability to do something faster or cheaper. Thus, to maintain quality standards while cutting time and cost, organizations turn to Continuous Improvement as a way to improve quality in an effective and efficient manner. The relentless pursuit of quality and perfection is the basis for Continuous Improvement. Establishing KPIs, capturing metrics, and alignment to strategy is a precursor to Continuous Improvement. Continuous Improvement allows organizations to apply IT in direct support of their business drivers. They can then see waste within both IT and business processes and proactively work with their business partners to drive Continuous Improvement efforts. Only then can organizations begin to deliver the value that CEOs actually want out of IT.
IT Architects provides a service to complete a Continuous Improvement Plan based on a Continuous Improvement Value Stream Framework. A Value Stream is defined as a series of steps required to provide value to the customer. It addresses the question of how IT can assist in the delivery of a product or service to the customer. It can be improved by IT through timely and more accurate information delivery to those who need it to produce a better quality service in less time at lower cost. The IT Architects’ Continuous Improvement Value Stream Framework helps the organization resolve problems and inefficiencies by achieving the following:
• Capturing real-time delivery of complex metrics which enable decision-makers to act quickly.
• Enhancing communications across business functional areas, especially areas of the business working together in supporting end-to-end processes (e.g. manufacturing to warehousing to distribution).
• Connecting and streamlining customer, supplier, and other external business processes to organizational processes.
• Refining and improving an Enterprise Value Stream by offering access to a holistic view of the organization that traditionally siloed parts of the organization kept to themselves
A Value Stream with wasteful steps eliminated from the process achieves flow; the idea that value moves through the Value Stream efficiently and without stopping. IT provides the opportunity to streamline product or service flow through the Value Stream in many ways, but most notably through seamless flow of information to the business. IT can improve flow by accomplishing the following:
• Minimizing Paper: Paper forms drive wait time in a process and companies have access to so many cost-effective technologies today – expandable databases, mobile, collaboration tools – that there is no need to be pushing paper
• Automating Reporting: A major disruption to the flow of information lies in the amount of time it takes to extract data, compile it in Excel, create graphs and charts, and then communicate it out to those who need to know. Today’s reporting solutions allow organizations to easily connect to data sources, query multiple data repositories, fully automate reporting, and provide real-time information on mobile devices.
• Alerting Personnel: IT departments have been using alerting tools for decades for managing networks and servers. IT can apply similar technologies to operations processes. Process control software can alert operators if machinery is experiencing an abnormal condition.
(Note: For companies whose teams are unable to practice Continuous Improvement throughout their day-to-day work, the next best way to leverage the concept is to hold Continuous Improvement events, otherwise known as Rapid Improvement events. Continuous Improvement events can take anywhere between one to five days to complete, depending on the depth and breadth of the topic to be covered, and team members usually come away with “to-do” items that help the new processes take hold within the organization and may require a small amount of time to execute.)