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Continuous Improvement: A Model for Success in Your OrganizationReading time 7 minutes
DevOps, agile methodologies, and continuous improvement (CI) have transformed the way that teams collaborate when they create software.
Rather than waiting for several months or years for major updates, software engineers are now able to improve their products with more efficiency than ever before. As such, DevOps teams put out feature-rich releases more frequently. The result is better software that delivers more value to customers. Everyone wins.
CI methodologies trace their roots to the world of software.
But the philosophy can be used to improve all aspects of the organization—from operations and culture to products and services. If you’re looking to take your company to the next level, continuous improvement may be just the ticket you need.
What Is Continuous Improvement?
Continuous improvement is an organizational philosophy that empowers every employee to contribute to their company’s advancement and improvement. It’s about eliminating traditional obstacles and barriers—such as schedules, employee titles, and meeting-driven cultures—that might hinder growth.
Businesses that embrace CI encourage all employees to express their ideas. And they are also encouraged to act upon them at any time.
According to the American Society for Quality, continuous improvement consists of four interconnected steps. Together, they are known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle:
- Plan. This is perhaps the most critical step of the cycle. At this stage, employees identify an opportunity and begin planning for an improvement or change.
- Do. This step involves implementing the improvement or change.
- Check. The next step involves analyzing the results of the new method using data whenever possible. Did the new action improve the way things are done? Or did it make things less efficient?
- Act. Lastly, if the new change resulted in a positive outcome, you should implement the change across the entire organization. After that is done, continually measure the new process to ensure repeatable results. And if for some reason the change causes operational inefficiencies, you need to abandon it and restart the cycle.
CI Advances Improvement by Eliminating Traditional Time Constraints
Organizations that embrace CI eliminate the need for employees to wait for a quarterly or annual review in order to suggest how their work could be streamlined.
Rather, if the employee is able to execute the idea on their own—without disrupting the normal course of business for other employees—they’re encouraged to do so.
For more complex ideas that might affect how an entire team operates, the employee can submit their idea to a supervisor for approval. To encourage buy-in, supervisors are encouraged to frequently review employee suggestions and execute them as quickly as possible.
What’s the Difference Between Continuous Improvement and Continual Improvement?
If you’ve searched the term “continuous improvement,” you’ve probably seen that some websites consider it the same thing as “continual improvement.”
Well, the two terms are not the same—and here’s why.
According to Dictionary.com, continual means “of regular or frequent recurrence; often repeated; very frequent.” Continuous, on the other hand, means “uninterrupted in time; without cessation.”
In a business setting, the differences between the two terms become even more apparent.
Remember, CI encourages employees to share their feedback and contribute to updates whenever inspiration strikes. There are no scheduled meetings or deadlines that determine when an employee can or cannot offer suggestions to improve their workflow. As such, an employee’s ability to make improvements is, quite literally, uninterrupted in time.
Under a continual improvement model, however, an organization might have a defined schedule that consists of monthly or quarterly reviews. Only then can an employee reveal ideas or suggestions.
In such an environment, an employee’s ability to make improvements confined to a regular, repeated occurrence. It’s not free-flowing. This results in ideas being lost to the ether.
Other Methods of Continuous Improvement
There are many methods of continuous improvement. Here are two of the more common ones.
Six-Sigma is a continuous improvement methodology that Motorola engineer Bill Smith introduced in 1980.
The goal of the Six-Sigma process is to improve a business’ operations by minimizing variations and conducting rigorous statistical analysis.
By all accounts, Motorola went on to experience tremendous success as a result of the Six-Sigma philosophy. Many other large corporations, such as General Electric and Boeing, followed suit.
Kaizen means improvement in the Japanese language. It’s a combination of two words; kai, meaning “change” and zen meaning “for the better.’
Kaizen was made famous by the Japanese author Masaaki Imai, who wrote Kaizen, The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success, in 1970. These days, Kaizen essentially means the same thing as continuous improvement.
In the business world, corporations that embrace Kaizen embody the philosophy that all employees, regardless of job title, have the ability to make their companies and products better. The idea is that every task that each employee does throughout the day contributes to the company’s success.
From the janitor’s sweeping to the CEO’s interaction with team members, every employee’s actions matter. When every member of the team wholeheartedly commits to performing each action with the goal of producing an excellent result, the organization as a whole continuously improves and builds upon itself.
What Are the Benefits of Continuous Improvement?
1. Better Quality Products and Services
Thanks to every employee’s unimpeded ability to improve their work, it comes as no surprise that their products are higher quality.
2. Happier, More Productive Employees
Believe it or not, employees tend to feel more valued when they can freely express their opinions and make a direct impact on the company’s success.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, employees who feel valued are happier and more productive. And they also stick around longer.
3. Increased Customer Satisfaction
When customers receive better products and services, customer satisfaction rises alongside customer retention.
What Are the Downsides of Continuous Improvement?
The success of a business’ CI initiative depends wholly upon the dedication level and example set by its leaders. With that in mind, here are some downsides you can experience when you don’t implement CI correctly.
1. Suggestion Bottlenecks
If management isn’t attentively reacting to employee suggestions, there could be a substantial backlog of work. And it might also cause employees to feel undervalued if it seems as though management is ignoring their suggestions.
Either way, employees can’t get enough done efficiently, and they won’t be as engaged because they won’t feel as though their opinions matter.
2. Suppressed Innovation
Employees and businesses that overly focus on CI often lack the mental energy to think outside of the box. Additionally, they might miss out on opportunities to innovate.
In fact, in these scenarios, they will be too caught up with their daily responsibilities to come up with new ideas and help their companies get stronger.
How Can Continuous Improvement Be Used to Get Your Organization to the Next Level?
In the world of software development, successful organizations embrace agile philosophies, DevOps workflows, and CI. To keep pace, you need to do the same.
But the good news is you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on your own.
For example, Plutora specializes in simplifying the enterprise software delivery process. Their platform streamlines and facilitates collaboration across development teams in a range of industries, including financial services, healthcare, telecommunications.
To learn more about how Plutora can help your team get to the software-release finish line faster, check this out. And if you’re ready for your first demo, contact us today—we’d love to hear from you!