Continuous improvement is defined as the ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through incremental and breakthrough improvements. These efforts can seek "incremental" improvement over time or "breakthrough" improvement all at once.
If you look at a department, team, workflow, procedure, or even at an individual level - continuous improvement is happening all around us. And when it stops….where does your business growth go?
As a business owner, your job is to ensure that your business continues to thrive and grow, and keep up with changing consumer demands, marketplaces and technology. Adopting a CI mindset allows you to question everything you do as a business with the goal of improving it incrementally.
Inch by inch, you can go over your business, and consistently find things to improve. Because of the pace of technology, and new products, new knowledge, etc. the pace at which we are able to improve upon our businesses is fast. A process that is great today will have ways to be improved upon tomorrow.
That’s why we incorporate this mindset into our own business. When we put a procedure into action, we test, revise, test, revise, implement, review, revise and again. That’s not to say we are constantly in a state of revision, but it means that we are comfortable with change as long as we are making incremental improvements to streamline, systemize or scale our business. It’s not just something we like to do, it’s imperative that we do it too.
Why should you incorporate a CI mindset? Think about this. A process that takes you 2 hours each week at a rate of $50/hour will cost you $5200 each year. If that process can be trimmed by half, you’re going to save $2600 each year. Now image if you take this mindset and apply it across your organization, the potential savings are huge.
But it’s not just about those $$$.
Continuous Improvement can also help reduce errors, increase quality and increase the efficiency of your organization.
So how do you implement continuous improvement? There are 2 main ways we look at our own organization or our clients’.
First is through the act of “doing.” When you are in the middle of a process, and you notice that something is off, or could be done better, take action. Document your thoughts so that you can quickly revisit, or better yet, make incremental improvements as you are DOING the process.
Second, is through a deliberate CI effort to approach a process and make changes. This is something that you are proactively moving towards. For example, if you know your sales process could be better, then scheduling a time to go through the workflows, get feedback from your team and stakeholders, and reworking the process might be what you need.
Either way, this process looks simply at answering “how can we make this better?” Then you go through the workflows in detail, determining where there is any waste (wasted time, cost, product, people, etc.), room for improvement, room to speed up the process, etc. The idea is to show that small, incremental changes can add up to HUGE savings of time each year.
Incremental change sounds great, but how do you implement it? We utilize the PDCA Cycle, which is described here by planview.com:
Plan: Identify an opportunity and plan for change.
Do: Implement the change on a small scale.
Check: Use data to analyze the results of the change and determine whether it made a difference.
Act: If the change was successful, implement it on a wider scale and continuously assess your results. If the change did not work, begin the cycle again.
Again, the change is incremental and then can be used more widely in your company once you’ve tested and verified the success of your change.
Here’s how we utilized a CI mindset to overhaul our client onboarding process.
When we first joined forces in January of 2021, we each had our own processes to bring on new clients. Each was working ok, but we used multiple systems (which had multiple costs), and were creating emails, invoices, contracts, etc. our own way. We also had many manual processes that we knew we could automate or create templates for.
So we sat down and went through our workflow from start to finish asking ourselves these 3 questions:
Is this necessary or value add?
Can this be done better?
Can this be automated or a template created to simplify?
We were able to eliminate several systems, create a checklist for onboarding and create several templates and automations for everything from proposals to contracts to invoices and even our welcome email.
Going through a CI process saves you time, helps you land more clients because of a quicker turnaround, creates less room for errors in missing a step, and creates a consistent workflow that anyone could come in and pick up on.
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