Continuous improvement is the task of frequently seeking out ways to improve processes, products, or services. However, when it comes to the ongoing and ever-changing task of continuous improvement, it is important to remember that persistence and perseverance are vital. For instance, when cell phones first came out they were oversized, bulky, offered less than desirable service, and neglected any sense of style. However, through continuous improvement cell phones today are small, sleek, and stylish mini computers that offer vast capabilities that were virtually unimaginable years back. All this change has been made possible through continuous improvement. However, it is important to note that these improvements did not come about overnight, but instead through small, incremental changes implemented by companies committed to continuous improvement.
Let’s explore the top 10 continuous improvement strategies that have proven to deliver results when implemented correctly and with dedication.
1. Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA): This is a four-step quality model that focuses on achieving continuous improvement by following four specified steps within a cycle.
Plan: Recognize or identify an opportunity and plan for a change.
Do: Implement the plan for change on a small scale. Test the change.
Check: Review the results and analyze them for success or needed adaptations.
Act: If the plan worked, implement the changes on a wider scale. If the changes were not successful go through the cycle again with a different plan.
2. Lean: Lean or Lean Manufacturing focuses mainly on preserving quality, with less work by eliminating waste. Some common “wastes” that are identified for improvement include waste of time, waste of money, and waste of resources. Some benefits of lean include a boost in employee morale, streamlined and more efficient processes, and overall improvements in customer satisfaction.
3. Six Sigma: Six sigma utilizes a set of quality management methods that aim towards improving outputs by identifying errors and defects. Since the goal of six sigma is to strive for near perfection, this data-driven method allows for only 6 standard deviations between the mean and specification limit when it comes to error. This method was originally developed by Motorola and has been credited with saving them nearly $17 billion dollars since it was initially implemented.
4. Total Quality Management (TQM): This type of continuous improvement strategy started out in the manufacturing sector but can be adapted to fit almost any business type. It focuses primarily on customer satisfaction, employee involvement, process enhancements, and communication. Essentially, total quality management is something that is integrated into every practice within the company in order to strive for excellence within all business components.
5. Kaizen: This Japanese-derived term is used to describe a long-term approach towards implementing small changes that add up to bigger results. Within Kaizen, each employee is fully involved to help ensure improvement within all processes. Some common highly coveted traits of Kaizen include personal discipline, quality circles, and teamwork.
6. 5S: The 5S philosophy centers on maintaining a clean and organized workspace to promote greater efficiency, functionality, and higher levels of production. This philosophy is called 5S because there are 5 organizational strategies involved that all begin with the letter “S.” They are as follows:
· Sort: Eliminate unneeded and unnecessary items by clearing the work area.
· Set in Order: Organizing tools and resources so they are easily accessible & in designated areas.
· Shine: Keeping work areas clean and tidy and putting items where they belong.
5S Guide: Improve efficiency with effective organization
When the workplace is a mess, processes slow down. 5S, a systematic method for workplace organization, keeps spaces clean and clear of clutter so processes run more efficiently. This 5S Guide explains the steps of a 5S program, how to start a program,
and what tools you’ll need to make 5S a success.
· Standardize: Work stations conducting the same jobs should be set up in an identical manner so job processes are standardized.
· Sustain: Maintaining and reviewing the standards to create a culture of continuous improvement within all areas.
7. Hoshin Kanri: Hoshin Kanri or simply Hoshin Planning is a step-by-step form of continuous improvement which centers on a comprehensive communication system between all levels of staff while working towards a shared goal. In Hoshin Planning, all employees are considered experts at their jobs and are held accountable for achievement. A common and helpful tactic used in Hoshin Planning is “Catchball.” Essentially “Catchball” is a session between managers and employees where ideas and questions are thrown back and forth, figuratively, to make decisions and to implement needed changes.
8. Kanban: Kanban originated within the Toyota enterprise and is a tactic used to help improve and make needed changes in order to promote further improvement. This type of continuous improvement method utilizes the importance of small steps “baby steps” towards improvement, while also respecting current processes and roles. Kanban can be described as a scheduling system that indicates what should be produced, how much, and when it should be done.
9. Value Stream Mapping: This helpful planning technique looks inward at the design and flow of how information is shared and how processes are conducted. A highly-detailed flow chart is commonly utilized to isolate all steps within a specific process, so areas can be identified for improvement or needed changes. This is a great tool to help identify areas of waste, reduce process times, and to improve overall current processes.
10.TIMWOOD: This form of continuous improvement places emphases on the 7 wastes commonly identified by the mnemonic TIMWOOD. When working towards becoming lean, the elimination of waste is crucial, and this strategy outlines the major contributors of waste so ideas can be brainstormed to help eliminate associated wastes.
· T: Transport
· I: Inventory
· M: Motion
· W: Waiting
· O: Overproduction
· O: Over-processing
· D: Defects
Updated By: Ben Geck Dec 23 2013 added photo image.