Today, any business wanting to maintain a competitive edge should be focused on continuous improvement.
Continuous improvement is a long-term strategy for improving your business, processes, and ways of working to drive greater productivity and profitability. It's about more than just finding a fix for a single problem. It's about an ongoing, continual drive and commitment to better performance.
The concept dates back to the 1940’s. One of the pioneers of this philosophy was W. Edwards Denning, who argued that organisations need a dedication to ongoing improvement in order to meet customer needs, beat the competition, and maintain a happy workforce.
In this blog post we discuss why it should be a focus for every manufacturing company, what the benefits are, and where to start.
It’s more important now than ever
Though continuous improvement is not a new concept, today, there is more pressure than ever for manufacturing companies to improve their performance.
Globalisation means competition is growing. You are not the only ones selling a certain product, service or feature. And with the world a much smaller place than it once was, not only do you need to be concerned about local competition, but foreign competition too.
Industry 4.0 is bringing with it greater use of automation across diverse industry sectors. It’s not just impacting on the manufacturing and automotive industries, but across FMCG and oil and gas industries too. While this paves the way for greater productivity and quality, you need to be able to adapt.
Mass customisation is a growing trend, and you need to be able to respond to more people wanting different versions of the same thing. Regardless of how simple or complex your product is, mass customisation at mass levels is difficult. Manufacturing companies are being forced to explore new operational strategies for producing highly customised products.
Finally, customers are becoming more and more demanding. You need to meet these demands. If you don't, you can be sure at least one of your competitors will.
People expect products instantly. The demand for same day delivery is real, with the likes of online retailers such as Amazon driving these expectations. 30 per cent of millennials say same day delivery is important when making an online purchasing decision. This is only going to become the norm. These expectations are already flowing into the B2B space, with business's customers calling for faster delivery to meet the demands of their own customers.
How you can benefit from continuous improvement
By creating a continuous improvement culture, where everyone in the business is committed to enhancing the productivity and efficiencies of processes, you leverage the knowledge and experience of your production teams. They know the processes best, what works well and what doesn’t. Through them you’re likely to gain access to simple solutions you didn’t even know you had. The result will be better quality of products and greater productivity levels.
The knock-on effect of this, is increased customer satisfaction. You’ll be better able to produce a product at the pull of the customer. They’ll receive a high quality product that meets their specific requirements, when they want it. The longer-term implication is that your customers will want to buy from you again, and will recommend you to others.
Then there is the impact improved productivity, quality of products and customer satisfaction will have on your employees. Feeling valued is a key driver of job satisfaction, and a great way to make people feel valued is to encourage their input and ideas. By building a continuous improvement culture, you’ll see a boost to their morale and increase in motivation.
Where to start?
A continuous improvement initiative requires the right tools to achieve success and keep it going.
The first step in improving product quality and processes is to establish what needs to be done. Where are the weaknesses? Where is there room for improvement?
Lean and Six Sigma projects have a high probability of success. The focus is on eradicating rather than managing problems, breaking up the cycle of recurring problems, and freeing up resources to focus on proactive management activities. It empowers the workforce by providing a conduit in which problems can be captured and resolved by teams, and an opportunity to improve employee problem-solving capability.
One Lean tool commonly used as a starting point for continuous improvement is PDCA. First you analyse your current processes to build a clear picture of how you operate today. Once you’ve established this baseline, you can follow the principles of PDCA:
- Plan - establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in line with requirements;
- Do - implement the required objectives and processes planned;
- Check - monitor and evaluate the results against initial objectives and report the outcome;
- Act - apply any actions needed for improvement to the outcome. Review all steps above and modify processes as required and continue the next cycle of PDCA.
The fact is, your business can’t afford to not continually improve. Ultimately, if you’re not moving forwards, you’re falling behind. Companies that don’t practice continuous improvement will eventually be put out of business by someone who finds ways to do better than their competitors.
If you want to find out more about how you can transform your manufacturing performance with continuous improvement through Lean and Six Sigma, download the eBook below or get in touch.