When you always try to get better, it is said that you take the risk to lose what was good. Even worse: always trying to do better, very often you do nothing. How much is this true and is there any reliable solution to continually improve things around us, particularly in a business environment?
Those questions are highlighting two elements that must be defined when trying to improve something: what has to be improved and from what point is it considered as improved? This reflection induces a perimeter notion respectively in terms of space and in terms of performance: what do I improve and how much do I improved it? Without precisely defining which element must be improved and without setting up a way to measure the improvement, you take the risk of not necessarily doing better and perhaps even doing worse, losing yourself in a non-constructive approach.
The question of “what has to be improved?” helps in defining how big the process I want to improve is, and what the possibilities of splitting this process into smaller steps are, thus enabling to initiate an iterative process. Breaking down into steps allows treating the process by small loops in terms of time and tasks to achieve, and offers a flexible way to adjust specific elements and therefore improve each given situation.
When considering businesses, failure encountered during the continuous improvement processes often comes when there is no clear visibility on action plans progress and no reference point from where you can analyze what has been started. It is then essential to adopt and follow a methodology – often supported by a software solution, which will help in highlighting actions’ progress, in prioritizing and planning upcoming tasks, and empowering team members. In doing so, the likelihood of reaching a continuous improvement path is increasing, so is the overall business performance.
This essential iterative process could be illustrated by a proven methodology known as the “Deming Wheel” which is supported by the following cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act. Below is a description of each step, reminding that those steps must be conducted continuously to maximize positive impact.
PLAN: establish an objective to reach. Define what are the processes to build-up, the resources available to achieve the final goal efficiently, and the contributors’ responsibilities for each action plan.
DO: Ensure the realization of the project, the plan and the process. In order to continue with the following steps, collecting data on the current process evolution is essential. It will allow to visualize the plan’s impact and to make a deeper analysis.
CHECK: evaluate the current results and compare them with expected ones. State any differences and look for deviations and trends in order to go deeper in causes’ comprehension. Once a cause has been identified, the process goes on the following step.
ACT: set up corrective actions that allow to stop a deviation or to ensure a good trend, in order to always improve results. The adjustment process made iteratively permits getting better results continuously and regularly. There is no end to this process: it is always possible to make better and as a strategy is continually evolving with time, processes and products also. Improvement is always needed.