4 keys to establishing a continuous improvement environment
Continuous improvement is a phrase you hear all too often at businesses. From the CEO to the newest intern, everyone wants to improve their outputs, their sense of achievement, the bottom line, and the customer’s experience.
So what makes for a continuous improvement environment?
If you look at human development, continuous improvement is preceded by continuous learning. Add a bit of direction to this learning, as well as some discipline and you naturally arrive at continuous improvement.
In the natural world, learning happens by trial and error. But in business, we want to control trial and error to minimize the chaotic impact of uncontrolled experimentation.
This is where the first key to continuous improvement comes into the picture: Planning.
Planning is the business’ answer to trial and error. To be frank, all plans are simply well-informed hopes and dreams that invite trial and carry a chance of error with them. What makes Planning useful though is that it starts with an objective to be achieved. Then we add the constraints to it, like time, cost, and certain clear measures of quality and completion.
Once there is a plan, no matter how crude or detailed, the next key to continuous improvement comes into play: Measurement. A plan that lays out a time frame and success criteria lends itself well to meaningful measurement. Say you wanted to increase your customer base from 1000 to 5000 over 5 months. Whatever activities you do, you could check in every single week and check whether you have made any progress towards the goal. After a few weeks, you could easily project the eventual outcome at the end of the 5 months.
Sometimes you surprise yourself and realize that you might reach your goal much earlier than anticipated. While this is a very welcome development, the measurement helps us realize that there are ramp-up times to any efforts, as well as the likelihood that we might fall short of the goal.
This is where the third key is called for: Reflection. Every time you measure, you have a chance to reflect and see what is helping your progress and what didn’t (yet) work out.
Reflection helps you put your efforts into perspective and evokes the fourth key: Adjustment.
A simple way to adjust is by asking these three questions:
- What should we continue doing?
- What should we stop doing?
- What could we start doing?
There you go. Your four keys to continuous improvement: Planning, Measurement, Reflection, and Adjustment.
Let me know how it goes ;)