A colourful bar chart or a wide network that correlates different project tasks: there are several diagrams that show different methods of project management. Many processes are similar because certain problems occur in almost all projects. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel: methodologies provide you with formalised approaches that have already proven successful many times over. With the...
Business people normally always want to improve their company’s manufactured products and services, as well as increase customer satisfaction. But there is no need for a big turnaround, a tabula rasa or a revolution. Many small changes are more effective than one large one. With a continuous improvement process (CIP), every company can increase quality for the long term.
What is CIP?
CIP: The continuous improvement process concerns a method that facilitates constant and incremental optimisations in companies. Product, process and service quality are thereby improved in the long term.
Anyone working with CIP would like to constantly improve their company – without requiring great transformations either. Instead of ground-breaking innovations, the continuous improvement process is designed for small changes. At the same time, CIP is less an elaborate system than it is a certain way of thinking that shapes the company’s culture: Every employee should understand it is their task to introduce improvements in their area of work. The result of these small optimisations is then reflected in increased service, product and process quality:
- Product: The manufactured product or offered services – thanks to CIP – are better at meeting the needs of the customer base and therefore generate more turnover.
- Service: Interactions with service employees are more geared toward the needs of the customer base, which is directly reflected in customer satisfaction.
- Process: Workflows are organised so that they are more efficient, which enables the company to save costs.
Even though every individual employee is called on to contribute, the management plays an important role in the success of CIP. Only when the management sets a good example and motivates employees sufficiently can this method be successful.
Two forms of incentives can be distinguished: Intrinsic motivation comes from the individual. The employee who would like to implement improvements of their own accord in order to follow their inner drive for optimisation. However, management should not rely solely on this type of motivation source, as people often strongly differ with respect to their internal motivation. The extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, results from an outer stimulus: For example, the management can strengthen the will to optimise by offering financial rewards or promotions.
When CIP is applied to a company, it is typically accompanied by the PDCA cycle at the same time. Through the cyclically recurring phases of planning, doing, checking, and acting, small changes can quickly be implemented in a way that is sustainable, while also being well-conceived.
A continuous improvement process can also be specialised, although this is by no means a necessity. The product quality in particular can best be improved with profound knowledge of the manufacturing process and the use of materials. However, process and service quality are often most effectively optimised through better work organisation. For this reason, tidiness and order have a significant role: Mess makes it easier for errors to arise and work stages last much longer than needed.
Every employee should plan and apply improvements in their own area. Oftentimes, the employee affected can best determine what potential there is for improvement in their area due to their many years of experience. Changes that are dictated from above, on the other hand, have for the most part unwanted negative effects: A change that the workforce does not go along with cannot achieve the desired effect. In addition, employees generally know their area of work better than their manager, which is also why the appropriate experts should decide what changes are advisable.
The CIP Concept: Background and Similar Approaches
The continuous improvement process is similar to the Kaizan method that originated in Japan and is also based on it. The concept is strongly linked to Japanese culture and simply means “improvement” in the Japanese language. In the 1950s, it became a working method based on the constant desire for self-optimisation – also considering the teachings of quality management expert William Edward Deming. In particular, Toyota used the Kaizan approach. Beginning in the automobile industry, the working method then spread worldwide. In this way, CIP eventually emerged from Kaizan. Just like CIP, however, Kaizan remains rather a basic concept and doesn’t provide a concrete plan.
Now CIP is accepted as standard practice in many companies, including in larger corporations and organisations. And anyone who has their quality management system (QMS) certified according to ISO 9001 must work on the basis of a continuous improvement process regardless. This is because the international standard explicitly demands CIP in all areas of a certified company.
Though it’s true that both methods have the same origin, Six Sigma is not identical to CIP. While the latter is geared toward step-by-step improvements and should be integrated into every workflow wherever possible. Six Sigma, on the other hand, aims for substantial improvements that are advanced by a few employees.
CIP Application Areas
Although CIP has its origins in the automobile industry and has also ensured substantial success in this sector, in principal the method can be implemented in everycompany – large corporations as well as single-person operations. The goal is to ultimately introduce small or even the smallest improvements that sustainably improve the quality of work. Even beginning with the arrangement of an employee’s work desk: In this way, better document and work tool organisation could improve workflow.
However, CIP has the most effect in companies with a complex structure. In a corporation, even a small change can have a big impact. The reason for this is related precisely to this complexity of larger companies and scaling: A small change in work steps can sometimes have a big effect on subsequent steps, thereby increasing the positive effect. On the other hand, an enormous measurable effect can also be seen in large businesses on the basis of their high output, once minimal changes have been implemented.
CIP Methods Clarified in One Example
One of the most popular improvements in terms of CIP is in establishing more order while streamlining. This is why not every reorganisation is advisable: If everything becomes more complex due to the ordering process and this means more work in the end, it is best to avoid doing it. A very simple example of how one can combine simplicity and restructuring is provided by virtually every office: How does the handling of documents work on a PC?
Consider the following scenario: Everyday emails with attachments end up in the inbox, employees themselves issue letters or invoices, and colleagues have files assigned to them. Everything lands in a single folder. Some colleagues prepare different files, however, and these do not have a consistent structure. What’s more, employees constantly have to search for the correct document.
An employee therefore notices this problem and comes up with an idea: The entire team should use the same folder for sorting and apply the same standard for naming. The employee passes along their idea to their team leader, who then considers whether the idea is viable and economically feasible. Because there are no costs associated with this step, they share the idea and all employees adopt the new system. Now, everyone can quickly orient themselves within the folder structure.
If you are a sole-proprietorship, then the step for authorising a change obviously becomes unnecessary. After all, you are the only one who has to consider whether a new working method would be practical for you.
A part of extrinsic motivation also involves managers handling their employees’ ideas in a motivating way. If suggestions are refused, there should be appropriate communication. The respective employee should not be allowed to feel snubbed, otherwise future suggestions for improvements will not occur.