Published November 28, 2016  in Process Improvement

Continuous Improvement Tools to Enhance Business Processes

To remain competitive in today’s business environment it is necessary to utilize continuous improvement tools. Continuous improvement tools help to enhance business processes. They do this by providing small improvements over time or a breakthrough improvement all at once.

I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.Georg C. Lichtenberg
Source

No matter what service or product your company offers, it can always be improved. Using continuous improvement tools is the best way to strengthen your business processes and continue to remain competitive in your industry.

The information below will outline different continuous improvement tools you can begin using today to improve your business processes.

Continuous Improvement Tools & the 5 Whys

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Taiichi Ohno is the former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation. He once said, “Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.” Ohno viewed problems as opportunities for ongoing improvement. While many business owners may desire a lack of problems, this usually indicates that there are a number of problems you are overlooking.

The 5 whys are a theory first developed by the Toyota Production Systems and now are an important part of Lean Manufacturing, Kaizen, and Six Sigma. The idea behind it is simple – you continue asking “why” 5 times until you discover the root of the problem. This allows you to break through the layer of symptoms and get to the root of the problem.

People commonly want to address symptoms when problems arise. Then they don’t understand why these same problems tend to keep happening. Using the 5 whys may take longer initially, but it will save you the trouble of having the same problems crop up over and over again in your business.

The 5 whys help you get to the root of any problem and understand the relationship between the different causes of this problem. It is one of the easiest tools you can use because it doesn’t require any data or statistical analysis.

Before we continue deeper – take a moment to check out the video below about setting up your process improvement initiatives for success.

Setting Process Improvement Up for Success

DRIVE and Process Mapping

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DRIVE is a continuous improvement tool that involves evaluating problems so you can break them down into simple, actionable steps. DRIVE stands for define, review, identify, verify, and execute.

You begin by defining the problem and deciding what criteria you will use to measure success by. You should be able to come up with a specific and actionable focus on what you need to do to move forward. Then you can review the current situation, which will allow you to see any problem areas or areas that need improvement.

Now you can identify potential solutions to the problem and evaluate what changes are required to sustain these improvements. Be sure to focus on the key issues and verify that the improvements you had decided on will meet the criteria you outlined earlier.

Now you are ready to execute your plan and implement the solutions. Be sure to gather feedback and review any success or failure of this implementation.

Process mapping is a workflow diagram that can help bring a clearer understanding of this process. It involves gathering information to construct a model of the activities that will take place in the process. This continuous improvement tool can help teams understand and identify opportunities for improvement.

ICOR stands for inputs, outputs, controls, and resources. It is a process analysis methodology used for process mapping that breaks down processes into simple, more manageable parts.

Process mapping offers a common framework which allows a systematic way of working. Complex processes can be explained in ways that are logical and easy to understand. It demonstrates any issues that exist and gives teams an immediate framework for decision making.

To begin process mapping you will brainstorm any activities that regularly occur in the scope of the process. Now you can group these activities into 4-6 key sub-processes, identify any links between these sub-processes, and define them using ICOR.

Continuous Improvement Tools & 7 Quality Tools

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The 7 quality tools were first emphasized by Kaoru Ishikawa, a professor of engineering at the University of Tokyo. These continuous improvement tools are useful for controlling and managing quality in any organization. The 7 quality tools can be used in any domain and are generic enough to be applied to nearly any condition.

Here is an overview of the 7 basic tools:

Flow charts: Flow charts are one of the best continuous improvement tools you can use to analyze a series of events. They map out these events to illustrate a complex process in order to find any commonalities among the events. Flow charts can be used in any field to break down complex processes in a way that is easy to understand.

Histogram: A histogram is a chart with different columns. These columns represent the distribution by mean. If the histogram is normal then the graph will have a bell-shaped curve. If it is abnormal, it can take different shapes based on the condition of the distribution. Histograms are used to measure one thing against another and should always have a minimum of two variables.

Cause-and-effect Diagram: Cause-and-effect diagrams can be used to understand the root causes of business problems. Because businesses face problems daily, it is necessary to understand the root of the problem so you can solve it effectively. Histograms can be used as a team exercise that involves brainstorming to come up with an effective diagram. Once the main sources of the problems are listed, the group can come up with likely causes from each area.

Check Sheet: A check sheet is a basic tool that gathers and organizes data to evaluate quality. This can be done with an Excel spreadsheet so you can analyze the information gathered in a graph.

Scatter Diagram: Scatter diagrams are the best way to represent the value of two different variables. They present the relationship between the different variables and illustrate the results on a Cartesian plane. Then further analysis can be done on the values.

Control Charts: A control chart is a good tool for monitoring performance and can be used to monitor any process that relates to the function of an organization. These charts allow you to identify the stability and predictability of the process and identify common causes of variation.

Pareto Charts: Pareto charts are charts that contain bars and a line graph. The values are shown in descending order by bars and the total is represented by the line. They can be used to identify a set of priorities so you can determine what parameters have the biggest impact on the specific area of concern.

Conclusion

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To begin improving the efficiency and effectiveness of any organization, it is important to begin by observing and understanding the problem so you can come up with an effective solution. Continuous improvement tools can be used in businesses to ensure that the organization continues to maintain standards for quality in their processes.

There are a large number of continuous improvement tools available so finding the one that is best suited to your individual organization is not always an easy task. It is important to find the continuous improvement tools that will be the best fit for your organization and won’t add more roadblocks to future success.

Continuous improvement tools cannot fix every problem but they do provide a means for helping you solve problems. They provide the structure and resources to understand and analyze solutions to existing problems.

Bonus Infographic – “How Do You Prepare for Process Improvement?”

Courtesy of the Process Consultant.

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