Continuous Improvment

Continuous improvement



Where to start with Continuous Improvement?
Before a framework of Continuous Improvement can be introduced it is important to have

a thorough understanding of how your organisation is working currently. What processes are in place at the moment?

Initially, concentrate your efforts on understanding your processes rather than focusing on your results.

This requires discussions with the people who are actively involved in the process and those who are required to manage it, sometime there is a third party involved – a customer or supplier.

A recommended way to understand your processes is to capture them as process maps oraffinity diagram.

The affinity diagram is a business tool used to organize ideas and data. It is one of the Seven Management and Planning Tools. People have been grouping data into groups based on natural relationships for thousands of years; however, the term affinity diagram was devised by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s[1] and is sometimes referred to as the KJ Method.

The tool is commonly used within project management and allows large numbers of ideas stemming from brainstorming[2] to be sorted into groups, based on their natural relationships, for review and analysis.[3] It is also frequently used in contextual inquiry as a way to organize notes and insights from field interviews. It can also be used for organizing other freeform comments, such as open-ended survey responses, support call logs, or other qualitative data.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

What is a process map?

A process map sets out all the steps and decisions in a process in diagrammatic form. It has benefit over a text based set of instructions in that it captures the steps taken to deliver the process, rather than the tasks. This means a process map is appealing to the eye, easy to follow and isn’t too detailed.


Business Process Management (BPM) System

Once you have captured your end-to end business processes, you have a model of how your organisation works. This can be a standalone model, but more commonly it forms the business management system for your organisation which also contributes to achieving quality standards such as ISO 9001, 14001, 18001, 27001 and compliance with regulatory standards.

This model of how the organisation currently works is the start point for modelling future options. Starting with a gap analysis to identify areas which need most urgent focus – where the waste or risk is highest – a programme for incremental changes can be established.

This is however only the mechanism for Continuous Improvement; implementing a system does not result in a culture change.


It also requires individuals to feel ownership for their part of the process and a responsibility for its quality and improvement. Using a Business Process Management system which allows this to be clearly identified and visible, really helps to establish and reinforce this.

With these factors in place, employees are empowered to suggest and implement improvement ideas and when the ideas come from the employees themselves there is far less resistance to change and Continuous Improvement is far more likely to be successful.

The support of the leadership and top management is imperative too, as not all the improvement ideas implemented will be successful. There has to be a long term view, an appetite for a certain amount of risk and support when the result are not positive.

Using a Business Process Management system which enables the ability to model future options and the capacity to ‘try out’ differing scenarios for process improvement, reduces the risk of Continuous Improvement considerably. However the need for a culture of senior support for trying out improvement ideas remains.

A business process or business method is a collection of related, structured activities


[1][2][3] A business process may often be visualized

process matrix of a sequence of activities with relevance rules based on data in the
[2][3][4][5] The benefits of using business processes include improved customer satisfaction

[1][2] Process-oriented organizations break down the barriers of structural departments and try to avoid functional silos.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



that in a specific sequence produces a service or product (serves a particular business goal) for a particular customer or customers.(modeled) as a flowchart of a sequence of activities with interleaving decision points or as a process and improved agility for reacting to rapid market change.


Pizza & Pasta Shop


Flowcharts and process maps are used to:

  • Increase understanding of a process

  • Analyse how a process could be improved

  • Show others how a process is done

  • Improve communication between individuals engaged in the same process

  • Provide process documentation

  • Plan projects

    Process maps can save time and simplify projects because they:

  • Create and speed up the project design

  • Provide effective visual communication of ideas, information and data

  • Help with problem solving and decision making

  • Identify problems and possible solutions

  • Can be built quickly and economically

  • Show processes broken down into steps and use symbols that are easy to follow

  • Show detailed connections and sequences

  • Show an entire process from the beginning to the end

Process maps help you to understand the important characteristics of a process, allowing you to produce helpful data to use in problem solving. Process maps let you strategically ask important questions that help you improve any process.


A standard operating procedure, or SOP, is a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out complex routine operations. SOPs aim to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance, while reducing miscommunication and failure to comply with industry regulations.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

SOP or sops can have different names across different industries, but they are used almost everywhere.

Hotels have front of house rules (SOPS) Standard recipes
Emergency procedures
Armed hold-up procedures

Road rules we use for driving are standard operating procedures.

If your organisation is having business efficiency problems or you just want to improve what you already have, you need to consider getting a process library. This ensures that employees are performing the same process using the same process methods. A great misunderstanding in business today is that efficiency problems owe largely to a lack of employee engagement but if you don't have a standard way of working, the same task will be performed 10 different ways by 10 different people.

It is a necessity for any organisation wanting to improve efficiency to achieve process standardisation. If you don't have this, you can and will get different results from employees carrying out the same processes.

In this article, I take a look at what a process library is, how a process library can store documents, help you standardise your way of working and dramatically enhance your business efficiency.


What is a Process Library?

A Process Library is a database of processes, documents and work instructions but is more than just a place to store documents. Process Libraries contains process maps that describe:

  • The tasks to be performed - in the form of policies, guides or process maps

  • The deliverables produced - the outputs captured using templates provided

  • The process workflow - the inherent dependencies

  • How the work is to be performed - techniques used

  • The tools that will be used to perform the work

  • Employee roles and responsibilities

  • Metrics used for improving the process

    What Problems Can be Solved With a Process Library?

    Many organisations don't understand how much they need a document management systemlike a process library. Of the frequently asked questions the 10 most common ones are:

    1. HowcanIgetouremployeestoengageinimprovementactivities?

    2. Weneedtoworkouthowtocomplywithrevisedoperatingstandardsandquality


    3. Thedepartmentsinourcompanyareworkinginsilos,weneedtofixthis.

    4. Howdowegetnewbusinessprocedurestolivepastthechangeinitiative?

    5. Howcanweensurethatwhenkeypeopleleavethebusiness,thenknowledgedoesnotgo

      with them?

    6. Wearewastingtoomuchmoneythroughineffectiveness/inefficiencies.Howcanwestop


    7. HowcanIgetpeopletotakeownershipoftheirprocessesandprocedures?

    8. HowcanImanageriskandavoidqualityfailures?

    9. Howcanwecreateacultureofcontinuousimprovement?

    10.We need to get people working consistently with everyone providing the same level of

    customer service, productivity and consistent product. How?

    These problems are very common, and can all be solved by implementing a process library - and making sure that the process library is useful, usable and used to increase business efficiency.

I will put it another way. Think about your own organisation. How many problems could be solved by creating a single way of working for all business processes? How many efficiency problems could be solved by making processes easily accessible to the staff that need them throughout the organisation? Process Libraries don't just store documents, they change organisational culture.

How Can a Process Library Help an Organisation?Implementing a process library could help any organisation to:

  • Break down silos (isolation, lake of communication, bad work follow)

  • Keep knowledge in the organisation, not in the person - when key people leave their knowledge

    should stay in the organisation

  • Grant access to specific employees to documents that impact their process areas

  • Support culture change and business efficiency

  • Create greater employee responsibility and ownership of processes as a result

  • Documenting processes within a library captures a current process as it is so you can identify

    improvement opportunities

  • Ensure your business management system is useful and used.

  • Make sure process changes are useful and deliver improvement

    It is especially important when building these resources to be sure they are visually appealing and easy to use.

    If your process library doesn't look great and feel easy to use it won't get used.



Process Libaries > Cultural Change > Continual Improvement = Business Efficiency

Cultural Change

To deliver the benefits explained above, a process library must sit at the heart of the organisation because if it is seen as an optional add-on they won't get used and they won't create any sort of change.

Simplicity, structure and layout are key for employees to work efficiently and adopt a management system as a standard way of working.

Continual Improvement

You cannot improve processes before:

- You know what they are - if you don't know how a process is broken or inefficient then you won't be able to fix it.

- You have a standard way of working in your organisation - you can create the most efficient and least wasteful process on the planet but unless it's being used by employees who actually carry out the process then it's just a big waste of time and energy.

Continual improvement only exists where the process is captured, shared, used then improved- this is known as the 4 pillars of continual improvement.

Everyone wants to meet KPIs and improve, but the Continual Improvement processin business is easier said than done. Often, if you view improvement on a graph, it will look a bit like an up and down zigzag — you will get good months and bad months.

The process approach to Continual Improvement is about modelling increases in an organisation’s process efficiency and keeping the swings down, creating more control and increasing productivity with incremental change.

It is important to keep in mind that there is always room to improve efficiency no matter how high the uptick is going but 'how' is the question. It all starts with the first of the 4 Pillars - capture.

The 4 Pillars of Continual Improvement



The first step in the Continual Improvement process is to capture your processes through process mapping, find the wasteful or broken processes and work backwards from there. It seems simple, but you will need an easy to understand process mapping methodology that can capture your full end to end processes and a user friendly process mapping tool that can show cost, effort and time data.


The Continual Improvement methodology and tools need to be user friendly because any process captured will need to be a process shared with anyone who is involved with carrying out that process. As there can be thousands of processes in an organisation with every employee responsible for different ones daily, it is essential that you can access a 'Process Library' that sits at the heart of the organisation with easy access granted to all.


Once access has been given, employees need to actually buy-in to the management system
and use it. Placing the system at the heart of your organisation exhibits a serious intent for change but there is more; the tools and methodology must be clear and easy for staff to follow - getting people on board is hard enough as it is.

New systems/projects must be promoted to staff in fliers, stationary, posters, billboards, emails and events. Follow up events need to be held every 6 months to really ensure that your Continual Improvement approach has taken root and for the team to understand that this is the new direction.


Process optimisation modelling is essential for the improvement of any process. Capturing existing processes is the foundation of any change; to capture is to understand. The Improvement part comes when you are able to analyse the current process, find the bottlenecks or process breakdowns and model potential solutions before actually implementing real change.

Repeat the Continual Improvement Process Steps

Once you have utilised these 4 pillars of Continual Improvement, start again!

Continual Improvement means the job is never done. Trying to attain perfection is impossible, but the Continual Improvement process provides improvement in small increments adding up over time to gigantic leaps in efficiency - this is the closest you will ever get to perfection.

So why are these 4 Continual Improvement process elements displayed as pillars?

Because each pillar is as important as any other to hold up the continual improvement process initiative - without one, the rest are useless.

The problem with Continual Improvement process principles is that it's all theory. Unless there is a real experience, with a real person and practical application that you can track from A-B, then it's mostly just going to stay as a good principle on a blog article.

Continuous Improvement is the objective of many organisations. It isn’t however something to be done, it is an approach or a culture and as such it can be hard to achieve. In this article I will explore ways to make its implementation both easier and successful.

Firstly though, what is Continuous Improvement?What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous Improvement - also known as Continual Improvement, CI, Continuous Improvement Process, CIP and often used interchangeably with the term Kaizen - is a long-term approach to improvement that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.



This is in contrast to one overwhelming innovation and is a business culture or approach
which involves everyone, leadership, management and employees, in finding and eliminating waste on an ongoing basis.

Continuous vs Continual Improvement

Although as we have seen, several terms can be used for Continuous Improvement, the fiercest debate rages between supporters of the term ‘Continuous’ and supporters of the
term ‘Continual’. This is semantics. In terms of the improvement approach there is no difference.

For the record though:

  • Continuous is nonstop

  • Continual things come and go, like arguments or rain (thank goodness!)


    Continuous Improvement as Business as Usual

    For Continuous Improvement to be successful making incremental improvements must be

    become business as usual.

    Using a BPM system to enable analysis and comparison of processes, benchmarking and being aware of why certain tasks are performed in the first place, puts you in a better position to have a positive impact on business change both in the short and long term, without catastrophic effects to ways of working and delivery.

    However the absolute game changer is the employee engagement and empowerment to identify small steps for incremental change. This takes time, commitment and ongoing communication.

    I hope that you have found this article enjoyable and helpful. Over the years I have worked closely with a variety of companies who have successfully implemented Continuous Improvement.

Cultural Change (a must have)

It is fundamental that all employees are engaged in Continuous Improvement in order for it to be successful. This means that there needs to be a big emphasis on employee engagement with business processes and an appetite for a process driven culture at all levels of the organisation, from the leadership down.

This is achieved over time with ongoing communication, but an essential start point is to involve everyone in the process of capturing what the organisation currently does (the process mapping). As part of this everyone should be asking: Why are we doing this? What does it produce? Who is the benefactor of the process? How does it impact our customers?

Continuous Improvement requires a systemic dissatisfaction with the status quo, no matter how good the organisation is perceived to be. There needs to be a collective understanding that standing still will allow the competition to overtake.

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