A continuous improvement process, also known as a continuous improvement program, is an ongoing attempt to continually improve a system, product, service, or process. These efforts may seek “continual” improvement over short periods of time or “short-term” improvements all at once. In the business world, continual improvement is often used to improve processes that are considered to be “long-term”, such as processes related to financial management, customer service, and human resources. This is because a significant element in these areas is the ability to identify and respond appropriately to customer needs and requests. The focus of this type of improvement program is to eliminate or reduce the gap between what is currently done and what needs to be done next.
Businesses use continuous improvement projects in many different areas and for different reasons. For example, some businesses use these projects to evaluate and monitor processes that are thought to be ineffective or inefficient. These processes might be costly to implement in the short-term, but may prove to be highly beneficial in the long-term because of the improved processes, cost savings, and increased productivity that result. Other businesses use these projects as a means to test or train employees on new processes or to bring in new talent.
Continuous improvement can also be used to reduce costs in business. Because most businesses have a budget to spend on the projects that they require, they can often find ways to cut back on expenditures by implementing improvements to processes that do not require large investments. Often, smaller, more concrete improvements, such as those aimed at increasing customer service, will yield the greatest savings. However, it is important to remember that continual improvement should always be tied to a strategy that includes a budget and a time frame for seeing results.
One of the biggest problems with many businesses is the gap between what they expect from their process improvement programs, and the kind of results they actually achieve. The key to continual improvement is to develop an action plan that details how the project will go according to plan. Without this detailed plan, it is easy to get off track and lose momentum. As a result, many companies put off their improvement programs for one reason or another and never really put them to work.
Without a good plan in place, however, it is easy to let continued lack of progress slide due to the disinterest of employees. Fortunately, there is a much better way of ensuring that quality improvement takes place. This method is known as quality management, and it involves two major components: employee involvement by managers. Quality improvement programs often involve employees working closely with management to identify and measure problems and issues, then working together to create solutions. On the other hand, a company’s process improvement program may involve only the participation of the manager who is charged with the responsibility of training employees on a regular basis.
It is important to remember that total quality management is not about micromanaging in an overly strict fashion. Rather, it is about encouraging productivity and enhancing the overall efficiency of the organization. If the goal is to create a lean, committed and efficient organization – one characterized by minimal waste, maximum flexibility and optimal performance – total quality management is the best solution. Implementing a total quality management approach can provide your organization with the ability to truly address issues and problems as they occur rather than waiting for them to come up.