Continual improvement in an organization?

A continual improvement process, is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. This effort would normally seek to make improvements in an incremental manner over time or a quantum improvement all at once. Continual improvement process is key and cuts across industry.

Any business which embraces a culture of continual improvement grows quickly over time, in efficiency and effectiveness. Among the most widely used tools for continual improvement is a four-step quality model called the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle also known as Deming Cycle.

Plan

Identify an opportunity and plan for change. Every organization can grow from a start-up to a giant on the global market. The leaders of the organization should be prepared to accelerate its expansion by identifying opportunities. Opportunities may exist from internal processes or external inflow of ideas. Consumer complaints and insight is a great way of picking opportunities for improvement. Any organization that shuns consumer complaints and insight is preparing to die before it sees the light of day. Once the opportunity has been identified, the organization needs to plan for change.

Change they say is difficult, but when change happens, it normally comes to revolutionize the way we do things and our approach to procedures and processes is greatly enhanced. Planning is key in every activity, right from personal goals to organizational goals. Failure to plan would have a negative impact and may lead to poor execution. The needed impact of the change might not be achieved in the long run. At this stage, the team to communicate and lead the change would be put together and action plans prepared to effect the change.

Do

One of the main issues that hinder organizational growth is lack of action on proposed plans. Although the planning stage might have gone well, putting action behind the plan is the most challenging. It is common to come across many research work that has solved most of our challenges as corporate Ghana, but since there has not been any action put behind the solutions we still suffer the consequences from those challenges.

In the ‘DO’ stage of the PDCA cycle, implementation of the change should be on a small scale. It is similar to the challenge of eating a whole apple in one bite. You can only eat an apple one bite at a time. Responsibility for each action to realize success is very important. Realistic timelines should be attributed to every action and should be agreed by the one responsible.

Check: Once implementation takes off, remember to keep records of all the activities. Checking is what would inform you, whether the change is successful or not. The mistake we make in organizations is the fact that, the monitoring and checking stage is normally relegated to junior staff who may not have the passion to see that change.

By the way running a continual improvement activity involves the entire organization especially the department or function where the change is affecting most. If it is happening in a factory, the shop floor must be involved. Once you have their buy-in, implementation and monitoring goes smoothly.

The data gathered in the course of the implementation phase is what is referred to, in determining whether the change made a difference or otherwise. Here, quality of data is an important factor since the outcome of the analysis is what determines whether you’ve reached success or otherwise. From my experience in Quality auditing, there is a poor record keeping culture. If records are kept, they are scanty and not systematically taken. People do not sometimes see the need to record process parameters or records of transactions if you’re talking of non-manufacturing organizations.

Act

The last phase of the PDCA cycle is ‘ACT’. Every good thing needs replication or expansion and that is how it works with the Deming Cycle. From the analysis of data from the ‘CHECK’ phase, we are able to tell the outcome of the change. if the change was successful, implement it on a wider scale and continuously assess your results. It is at this point that you standardize or improve the process. If the change did not work, begin the cycle again, learning from the shortfalls.

Conclusion

Setting up a business can be challenging but there are principles that make businesses thrive. Failure to follow such principles would collapse your business. Continual improvement is a process that enables you create an efficient profitable organization.

Some other benefits can be realized from the application of a continual improvement process in the areas of new product development, project management, supplier management and problem solving activities. Employ this process and see consistent growth in your organization

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Executive Director & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality/Safety Management, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety) and can be reached on +233209996002, email: johnson@qaconsultgh.com.

BY: Johnson Opoku-Boateng

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