Human beings are creatures of habit, not only on a personal level, but also in the workplace. Organizations often stick to tried-and-true practices because they have “always done things this way”. The trigger to do things differently is absent. Why adjust the billing process when customers and suppliers pay? And why change the routine on a production line if you can achieve your daily output using the present set-up?
However, the fact that things don’t go terribly wrong does not necessarily mean that a process runs in an ideal manner. If you take the trouble to look carefully and critically, you may see that there are still quite a few opportunities for improvement in terms of (cost) efficiency, productivity and safety. For example, the fact that your company has been free of accidents does not necessarily prove that everyone adheres to every single safety rule and procedure.
In addition, technologies, markets and customer needs are changing faster than ever in today’s digital and highly competitive world. Just refreshing processes and knowledge once in a while just doesn’t cut it anymore. How should it be? Invest in continuous improvement! In this article we will tell you what continuous improvement exactly means and why this method is the way to get the best out of your people, processes, investments and devices.
The definition of continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is a long-term process aimed at continuously improving the quality, productivity and safety of processes. An important characteristic of continuous improvement is that changes in processes and routines don’t happen all at once. You implement improvements in small steps and subprojects that are quick and relatively easy to carry out.
Another distinctive characteristic of (good) continuous improvement is the implementation of changes and process improvements in close consultation with all people on the work floor. The people on the factory floor actively provide input for the improvement plans. Operators and workers recognize better than anyone else where there is room for improvement because they know the tasks behind the daily processes and work routines they carry out. Continuous improvement is therefore a process that is supported by the entire organization because it gives all employees ownership over workplace improvement.
Another important feature and essential pillar of continuous improvement is standardization. Standardizing training routines, processes and working methods allows you to ensure that everyone works in the same way. This makes it easier to smooth out variations in results. You also make life a lot easier for people in the workplace by applying universal work standards for a process or routine.
Think of continuous improvement as nurturing a tree. Standardization and process optimization form the solid roots that create the ideal conditions for growth. If you continue to pay human-centric attention to the growth process on the management and work-floor level (you regularly provide the tree with water), processes (the tree) continue to develop. Ultimately, those processes (the tree will bear fruit) pay off and allow you to reap the benefits of process optimization in terms of efficiency, safety and productivity.
Continuous improvement: the steps
But how exactly do you put continuous improvement into practice? Make sure to properly follow the steps below.
Properly analyze existing processes and procedures
Start with a critical and thorough analysis of your current processes, process steps and work routines. What can be done better? Which processes are not yet aligned with key business objectives or are not delivering the desired results? What about machines and technology? Which processes and process steps offer the best opportunities and highest margins for improvement? For example, consider a packaging robot that drops a lot of stuff. An employee always has to solve this imperfection by putting things back manually, which causes delays in the entire production line. Critically analyzing existing processes provides the input for specific improvement measures.
Once you know where and how things go wrong, you can start sparring with all stakeholders: the board, management and the employees that carry out the work. In this phase of the continuous improvement process, you roll out specific and organization-wide improvements. Standardization is a strong tool to complete this step.
Also don’t forget to align the planned improvements with clearly defined goals. These should describe the quality and safety levels that you want to achieve on a daily basis. What about lost sales, downtime or wasted time due to inefficient processes? And how do these numbers relate to the statistical goals you want to achieve in the future?
Keep evaluating, monitoring and improving
As the term suggests, continuous improvement is not a one-off process. It can always happen that a new work standard yields major improvements and works fine, but eventually needs to be adjusted again. Continuous and critical monitoring, evaluation and a possible re-adjustment of processes is therefore the credo if you want to maximize the benefits of continuous improvement.
Continuous improvement and TWI: a natural combination
Although continuous improvement and TWI are two different things, the two concepts do have important commonalities. In fact, they form a natural and powerful combination. You can see TWI as a daily control and quality system to determine the current quality of your business and production processes. TWI also helps you indicate how far you have progressed with continuous improvement.
By putting a strong emphasis on training and working according to a fixed standard (including the why), TWI helps to get people involved in new ways of working. Due to the training aspect, adapted working methods and the emphasis on the human-centric side of continuous improvement, TWI also creates new and improved working methods that take your organization to the next level.
TWI prevents that your work standards do little more than catch dust in a drawer. Many modern companies opt for the golden combination of continuous improvement and TWI. They start out with TWI and follow it up with continuous improvement. Or vice versa. Many organizations that choose the latter route sometimes wonder afterwards how continuous improvement could ever have been achieved without TWI.
Continuous improvement and TWI Company
TWI Company has been cultivating a culture of continuous improvement within various organizations in the Netherlands and Belgium for twenty years. A little later, we also added TWI to our area of expertise. TWI Company is the right place to go to if you are looking for an experienced and knowledgeable partner that combines the best of these complementary process optimization methods. Curious about the possibilities? Please feel free to contact us via 0527-305080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.