Developing and Using a Continuous Improvement Process Plan

by Thom Tracy

4 min read

Successful businesses survive and thrive because they consistently strive for excellence. They aim to anticipate and meet their customers’ needs while also improving efficiency, productivity, and profits. One surefire way of emulating their success is to develop and implement a continuous improvement process plan.

Defining a CIP Plan

A CIP plan is a cycle of actions designed to improve business processes, products, and services through a series of steps. It is a repeatable process based on the Kaizen quality improvement philosophy, which has led to the success of Japanese companies such as Toyota. Kaizen, meaning “change for better,” assumes businesses can always find ways to improve customer satisfaction and increase profitability.Building on these principles, quality guru Edward Deming developed a four-stage continuous improvement cycle that eventually came to be known as plan-do-check-adjust. These stages form the basis of a typical CIP plan. It’s also helpful to borrow from Six Sigma’s methodology, which uses the define, measure, analyze, improve, and control cycle to improve existing processes.

Troubleshooting

Before you start developing a CIP plan, you should identify and define what area of your business needs to improve. Analyze performance figures against targets to monitor trends and dips, and actively seek out and analyze feedback from your clients and employees. Make sure you have a transparent complaints procedure that is easy for customers to use when they experience problems. Encourage customers to review your products and services online. Establish an employee feedback/suggestions program, and check what they write about you on employer rating sites such as Glassdoor. Observe your people carrying out their daily work and study individual procedures and processes to measure their efficiency.

Plan and Do

After you identify the issues you need to address, you can start the plan, do, check, adjust cycle to bring about improvements. In the planning stage, identify the actions you are taking, secure the resources you need to bring about the change, and identify your desired, measurable outcomes along with deadlines for their achievement. If you are delegating responsibility to one or more employees, make sure they have the necessary support to get the work done, and agree on dates for any interim reviews against benchmarks to ensure everything is going to plan. Try out your ideas on a small scale before rolling them out across the organization.Carry out the actions that aim to secure improvements. As a business leader, it’s vital you take responsibility to make sure you involve and consult with everyone that the plan affects, so they feel part of the process. You need people to work with you rather than against you.

Check and Adjust

On completion of the actions, evaluate the results of the changes and sum up what you have learned. In a larger company, make sure you report the results at the highest level to gain buy-in from the leadership team and disseminate them throughout the organization. Get feedback from those involved and be sure to thank employees for their efforts. One way to motivate employees and ensure meaningful discussion about the process is to integrate CIP actions assigned to individuals within their employee performance reviews.If the changes prove successful, roll them out on a larger scale. If they fail, learn from the experience and try again with a different approach. Avoid allocating blame if, despite everyone’s best efforts, you did not achieve the desired outcomes. Monitor implementation of new processes and repeat the cycle to bring about further improvements.

CIP Planning in Practise

A CIP plan can work effectively for any size of organization, from an independent contractor with no employees to a large multinational corporation. Imagine you are a small business owner and you are increasingly receiving negative customer feedback about late deliveries or goods being damaged in transit. Your CIP plan might be to find a new supplier to deliver to a small sample of your customers. After a set period, you can check to see if levels of satisfaction improve and, if so, adjust by using this new supplier for all your deliveries. Continue the cycle by checking customer satisfaction levels with this supplier. Also, look to other areas of your business that you can improve, such as your packaging department.Let’s say you manage a small manufacturing company and your employees are expressing their frustration at time-wasting bottlenecks they think you could eliminate by amending the workflow or purchasing new equipment. Get onto the shop floor, talk to employees, observe procedures, and then plan, do, check, and adjust.

Embedding CIP Planning

For continuous quality improvement to work effectively, it must align with and be an integral part of your company’s longterm strategic plan. Too many businesses are too busy firefighting on a daily basis to make time for meaningful forward planning, but taking time out to plan and develop a CIP strategy can ward off future disasters.Book time with your leadership team or set aside time for yourself if you’re an independent contractor to think about how things are likely to change over the coming months. Consider the opportunities and threats from the political, economic, and technological changes on the horizon. Study any upcoming legislation that might have an impact on your business. Examine your competitors’ performance to see what they are doing better than you. Continue analyzing client and employee feedback along with production/sales figures to spot worrying trends. Be proactive about putting plans in place to address problem areas and bring about the necessary improvements.Committing to long-term strategic planning that identifies quality improvements and delivers excellence is critical. In a competitive, fast-moving world, using CIP plans can help ensure your business is the one that survives and thrives.

References & Resources

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