The continuous improvement process is lucrative to all industries looking to make a change in their workplace practices. Whether that change be for safety, the health of the employee, or to create a more efficient workplace, continuous improvement exists to find ways to add value to the process as well as improve employee wellbeing.

This article for our “How To” series will explore why continuous improvement is a worthwhile investment as well as how to go about implementing it into your own workplace culture.

The Continuous Process Improvement Basics

Continuous improvement is the core idea of many Lean manufacturing strategies. You may recognize that of Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, the Toyota Production System, Kanban, etc. As the basis of all these incredibly helpful productivity and efficiency enhancers, those implementing any improvement method must first be familiar with what goes into continuous improvement.

Continuous improvement is defined as always looking to make procedural, safety, or protocol improvements that will benefit the company over time. That said, making a one-time fix will never solve all a facility’s problems, that’s more akin to placing a cheap band-aid on a gaping wound.

Instead of focusing on “quick fixes” get to the heart of most problems by seeking to understand the root cause. This requires obtaining a deep understanding of how a process works. Where can this insight be found? Your employees, of course!

The Principles of Continuous Improvement

Just like the Toyota Production System or TPM, there are several principles that continuous improvement strives to incorporate into employee participation and the existing culture. All of which have three common themes. Those include:

  • Respecting people
  • An openness to positive change
  • Measuring success

The following sections include the six principles that continuous improvement relies on.

Continuous Improvement Principle #1: Making Small and Methodical Changes

As a facility seeking change, you must strike a balance between jumping into ice cold water and moving so slowly that nothing gets done. Shocking employees with sudden, big changes or settling into old habits are some of the most common reasons why continuous improvement efforts fail.

With that in mind, small scale improvements, rather than radically different methods or inventions, are usually inexpensive to incorporate. Both the implementation is of low cost, and the amount of time that your workers save from a new process can equate to more value in the product or service.

Not only that, but small changes are easier to digest. That means there’s less of a likelihood of workers rejecting or refusing to participate in the new protocol. For example, large changes could be too complicated and frustrate workers. Or changes had been made so quickly that there wasn’t enough time to train workers, resulting in injuries or burnout.

Continuous Improvement Principle #2: Always be Open to Ideas

The unique part about incorporating continuous improvement into a workplace is the fact that it relies on the employees’ expertise. Since the employees are observing and interacting with facility operations all day, every day, they have a wealth of information regarding where problems may lie and any improvements to be made.

This doesn’t mean they will come to management with new ideas immediately, employees must be given an avenue for suggesting changes. This can be anything from asking them “what can we do better to save you time” or even providing a suggestion box within easy reach for employees to drop comments in anonymously.

Employers must also realize complaints should not be avoided. Listening to grievances are an excellent opportunity to confront problems and make improvements.

Participation in continuous improvement is about being open to new ideas and innovations from everyone. Incorporating employees’ ideas regarding change will show that you value your employees’ opinions, therefore encouraging them to be more open in the future.

Continuous Improvement Principle #3: Set Tangible Goals

While long-term goals are important for the company’s future, a set of smaller goals should be implemented to achieve those annual goals. Additionally, several smaller goals give the users a place to start while also motivating them to do more as they cross items off their checklist.

Once those smaller goals are set, encouraging feedback upon implementation is an excellent way to see where reinforcement is needed. With that, continuous improvement can continue as it was intended, in a cyclical manner.

Continuous Improvement Principle #4: Always Measure and Monitor Results

One of the most important rules of incorporating continual improvement strategies is making sure to keep track of results. Use fact-based and measurable methods to monitor how the changes are altering the work environment. Are the employees happier? Are there less injuries occurring? How has the efficiency rate changed in the process?

Let’s break it down.

Step one, have you achieved your goal? If you have, great! Make those changes permanent. Did you fall short? That’s still a great learning opportunity. Assess where you’re at and make some adjustments to get back on track.

There really is only one step. The trick is even if you achieve your goals or failed, the next step is to always look for more areas that need improvement.

Continuous Improvement Principle #5: Positive Improvement is Contagious

Visibility of continuous improvement efforts play a large role in participation rates. Initially seen as a form of communication or route for feedback, the ability to view results, know who helped achieve it, and how it happened can instigate conversations on future improvements. The visibility of results can also work to incite more participation and innovation.

Are you starting to notice the cyclical nature of continuous improvement yet? Visible on many levels, continuous improvement is aptly named. For example, the PDCA cycle is closely associated with continual improvement because it is based on an endless loop of acting, gathering information, and procuring feedback from all levels of a business to then start over again.

Continuous Improvement Principle #6: Remember the Customer

When looking to utilize continuous improvement, it’s important to remember what constitutes as value. Value for customers is something that, to them, makes a useful product. To meet their needs, the company must separate the actions that are necessary to create value and carefully choose the actions that are necessary but do not constitute value for the customer.

With continuous improvement in mind, it’s time to determine the specific needs of your customer, understand why those needs are essential, prioritize those needs, and work to deliver what they expect to be handed.

But who are the customers? Well, they can be anyone affiliated with the company. That means clients who request the business’s services, stakeholders, and even the employees next in line within the process workflow.

With these six principles in mind, those who choose to transition to a continuous improvement centered culture can effectively implement this method. Remember, there is always continuous work to be done for a method like continuous improvement.

Use the Right Improvement Tools

There are countless tools and products to choose from that can assist with improving continuous improvement culture at your workplace. However, choosing the right continuous improvement tools can be tricky.

Luckily, Creative Safety Supply can help you establish the right continuous improvement strategy in accordance with your unique environment.

The following are excellent tools to consider using in your new continuous improvement regiment:

  • Foam tool organizers are the number one choice when it comes to preventing injuries due to digging around in cluttered toolboxes. Not only that, but you’ll never lose a tool again.
  • Floor marking tape is not only highly recommended by ANSI, but it is required by OSHA. Mark dangerous areas with sturdy, long-lasting floor marking tape to keep your employees alert of their surroundings.
  • Whiteboards can be a huge help with project planning, scheduling, root cause analysis, or anything else you can think of. Not only will it get the information across easily, but our dry-erase boards enable you to rework information with the swipe of an eraser.
  • Industrial label printers are for those looking to improve visual communication in their workplace, follow OSHA regulations, and obtain labels on-demand. Our durable, high-quality labels will last in your facility for 5-10 years or more and save you money! Talk about a sound investment.

If you’re looking to begin your very own continual improvement program and change the workplace culture for good, you’ll be set and ready to go with the helpful tools above.

Training Employees on Improvement Logistics

Management and other leadership members can talk about implementing continuous improvement all they like but giving employees the right resources is another matter to address. That said, without employees on board, your new continuous program will be on its way to failure.

Take the time to train employees on not only how to think about continuous improvement, but also the specific Lean manufacturing method that incorporates continuous improvement into its strategy. The more information they will have about the change and why it is happening can help bring employees on board, therefore changing the culture on a company-wide scale.

Tips for Following Through with Improvement Methods

Just like 5S, creating and maintaining a successful continuous improvement program relies on buy-in from all departments. Without this, continuous improvement methods tend to be one-sided without the opportunity to make further improvements. Participation is essential for new innovative ideas and for maintaining what is already there. In fact, if the company leaders are not involved, then progress is practically impossible.

Overall, continuous improvement is an excellent Lean manufacturing base to start out with as the facility continues to create a more efficient, productive, and safer place to work.

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