How the continuous improvement model leads to greater business efficiency

There is more pressure on IT professionals now than ever before

The drive for digital transformation and the need for innovation in an increasingly virtual workplace has meant the demand for more features and faster delivery times has never been higher. But how can teams deliver new products, services and processes to meet these heightened expectations without compromising on quality?

What is continuous improvement?

The continuous improvement model is a process that focuses on the continual improvement of products or services and the processes to manufacture or provide them.

Continuous improvement is about a commitment to constantly seek incremental improvement over time, and it’s an ongoing effort. In modern terms, it is often referred to as the Deming cycle or PDCA cycle: Plan, Do, Check, and Act (or adjust).

Why do we need it?

While it’s tempting for developers and IT professionals to apply an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of mindset, there is more pressure and competition now to be proactive, rather than reactive, in driving business goals forward, improving the efficacy of the workforce and adding value for customers.

Consider the following anecdote:

Imagine your business created a niche software product that addresses a critical need and sells well. Because of initial success, developers rest on their laurels. However, due to its accomplishments, competitors invest in their own product to improve its value for their customers. In response, you attempt to innovate further, but now processes are lagging, and you can’t realise your new ideas or concepts quickly enough to compete.

Businesses that adopt the continuous improvement cycle actively seek to increase the value that that software delivers. For example, implementing processes that continually prompt user feedback helps you to put plans in place to reduce or avoid defects in the first place, meaning fewer support tickets are generated down the line.

How to implement continuous improvement

Businesses taking their first steps to implement continuous improvement practices can apply the four basic principles to give them a strong foundation for success:

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping means you visualise the processes at an organisational level, showing the progression of actions that add value for your customers. This critical step helps to identify and re-evaluate the key parts of the process that don’t add value to the end product.

Once value streams have been mapped effectively, teams can implement a process of continual improvement to optimise value streams on an ongoing basis to become more efficient, predictable and reliable.

Eliminate Waste

Streamlining and simplifying handoffs, reducing excessive Work in Process (WIP), and eliminating overproduction (such as working on unnecessary features) can help to eradicate wasteful work from your legacy processes. Identifying and rectifying wasteful activity across key functions can drive efficiency up and bring costs down.

Root Cause Analysis

Identifying the cause rather than the symptom may seem obvious but is often overlooked as a key part of the process. Identifying the real reason why a problem exists means asking just that. Ask ‘why’ as many times as possible, keeping going until you find the actual root cause of the issue, then make a plan to rectify it.

Value Stream Management Practices

Value stream management (VSM) is used to improve the flow of work through a production process. The framework is used by knowledge workers and dynamic teams, and focuses on the following range of processes:

● Visualising, or mapping workflows

● Eliminating interruptions

● Managing flow

● Making policies explicit

● Creating feedback loops

● Collaborative improvement

Eliminating wasteful processes is key, so analysing your data and knowing the numbers is a great start to begin identifying pain points and making the small incremental changes that could mean the difference between surviving or thriving in such a competitive landscape.

Ultimately, identifying the small improvements that can be made to existing processes, keeping what works, and eliminating what doesn’t work, can have a significant impact on the bottom line.

About the Author

Jeff Keyes at Plutora. Jeff has spent his career writing code, designing software features and UI, running dev and test teams, and consulting and evangelizing product messaging. Outside of 6 years at Microsoft, he has been primarily focused on growing startup companies.