Continuous improvement is far from a new philosophy. Dating back to the 1950's, Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota decided to make incremental changes in processes and products to remove waste and increase business efficiencies and outcomes.
The same is true today. Through ongoing efforts to improve the quality of services, products and processes through constant review, measurement and action, businesses can eliminate complexity from processes and identify better ways of working. These can come as phased improvements over time or transformative changes that deliver major shifts in processes and procedures across a global structure.
Continuous improvement in a digital world
With continuous improvement being entrenched in the minds of modern-day businesses, implementing this philosophy into a digital world has to be tackled differently.
Rather than lengthy improvement projects, businesses should take a technology enabled approach with more rapid process improvements that incorporate real-time, event-driven performance dashboards and business analytics for effective decision making.
For multi-faceted global businesses, operations are becoming more complex and interdependent due to manufacturing process advancements, variable workforces, and the growing accessibility of data. The complexity of operational processes grows and traditional approaches become ineffective, creating a need for digitally adapted continuous improvement frameworks.
As organisations’ processes shift, so too does the workforce. It becomes more dispersed through networks of employees that operate cross-department and cross-location, all powered by connected devices. Employees are more empowered, owning differing roles with greater opportunities to take on non-routine problem solving and creative, divergent thinking. This can create processes that are difficult to manage and therefore improve.
With this change in environment, the need for knowledge transfer, communication, interconnectivity and integration (for example, from the enterprise to the factory floor) is key for continuous improvement.
Technology and continuous improvement working in tandem
Continuous improvement and the role of technology are inextricably linked, with both existing to eliminate complexity and identify better ways of working through innovation.
With the rapid advancement in technology, as well as the increase in reliability and evolving approaches of solution providers, it has become easier than ever to implement technology solutions to support continuous improvement programmes.
In fact, agile software development itself takes on an iterative approach, mirroring the philosophy of continuous improvement. With an agile approach that focuses on continuous feedback loops and releases that are improved in terms of performance and capability, software development fits seamlessly with continuous improvement initiatives.
The use of intuitive applications in external-facing processes enables organisations to automate and improve sales and customer support processes, enhancing customer experience in an increasingly competitive market. Similarly, applications can be used to automate site maintenance services, produce real-time dashboards and greater insights into business productivity, which ultimately delivers a platform for inventive strategies.
Integration is also invaluable to continuous improvement practitioners, enabling streamlined processes with real-time data analytics, leading to further productivity and efficiency, based on clear visibility of intelligent decision making.
Technology is now vital to the daily function of organisations, with many businesses now operate as a complex network of ubiquitous transactions. This provides a huge opportunity for continuous improvement practitioners to go above and beyond traditional programmes, achieving smarter, more rapid and valuable developments.
Combining people, process and technology
While a technology-enabled continuous improvement process can revolutionise a way of working, it can only function with human intelligence.
Businesses should avoid an over-reliance on the technology which separates people from process. This reduces the human understanding needed to make effective improvements – something that cannot be replaced by a simple mobile application.
The people of a business and their knowledge of processes make up the improvement side of the process, with technology acting as a supporting framework – both combining to optimise value and return on investment for the project. As an example, operating within Lean Six Sigma thinking, the interaction of user communities and technology working in tandem produced greater benefits than the two operating separately.
Businesses should avoid treating technology as a separate, rigid solution that is implemented once as a catch-all solution. By approaching technology as an enabler, businesses are more likely to achieve scalable solutions that will achieve the required improvement, as well as progress, scale and flex in line with their future goals.
In short, when businesses use technology to enable their continuous improvement processes, they can achieve intelligent and integrated improvements, identify new opportunities, offer greater value to the customer and reach new levels of productivity.
If you're interested in how technology can help to optimise processes and deliver greater improvements in efficiencies and productivity rates, get in touch. We have extensive experience in working with leading organisations to analyse and improve business-critical processes to deliver greater visibility, collaboration and control.
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