A guide to achieving continuous process improvement

As easy as it would be, doing things the same way time and again without any kind of change can slowly become ruinous.

A business is not a static entity in a static environment. Without updates and improvement, progress falters. Processes break or go stale. Practices stagnate. Simply, planned change is an essential part of business growth.

So, how do you drive progress across the day-to-day running of your enterprise? Enter continuous process improvement.

What is continuous process improvement?

Continuous process improvement is a practice in which you continually monitor and improve the performance of your business processes.

Continuous process improvement is also known as CPI, CI, or continual improvement. However, some people draw a distinction between continual and continuous process improvement.

Continuous is taken to mean ongoing, never ceasing improvement. Continual, meanwhile, means regular, continued bursts of process improvement. In both cases, the end goal is to have up-to-date, highly efficient processes.

The idea is to make incremental changes to processes over time to keep them running as smoothly as possible. It’s also about constant monitoring which can enable larger, ‘breakthrough’ changes. (That is, as soon as the opportunity presents itself, and/or the need arises.)

Continuous process improvement is often considered to fall under the same banner as lean practices like Kaizen and Six Sigma.

Why aim for continuous process improvement?

Continuous process improvement is all about spotting inefficiencies and eradicating them. In other words, it’s a practice that ensures processes are performing optimally. And whether you choose to focus on breakthrough improvements or gradual ones, every change will have a positive impact on your business.

The benefits of CPI

  • Efficiency

CPI means improvement in the efficiency of your processes. More efficient processes have a knock-on effect — you end up with more efficient systems, practices, and teams.

  • Productivity

In turn, these slicker processes lead to the benefit of increased productivity. Teams aren’t being held back by broken or inefficient processes, and so their time can be spent more fruitfully.

  • Prime for automation

Continuous process improvement means that processes are kept up to date, working well, and thus prime for automation.

  • Reduced costs

Another benefit of continuous process refinement is the reduced costs that the practice affords. By removing inefficiencies, resources aren’t spent on flawed or outdated processes.

  • Reduced errors

Additionally, because processes are regularly reviewed and improved, there are fewer occurrences of errors due to faulty processes.

How to achieve continuous process improvement

Perhaps the most popular approach to continuous process improvement is the PDCA cycle. PDCA stands for ‘plan, do, check, act’.

  • Plan

The first step, known as plan, is where you analyse your process performance(s) to find opportunities for change or fine-tuning. This includes getting a view of the whole process, who it affects, and the tools used/needed.

It also involves planning the change you want to make. For example, what do you want the process to achieve? How will you improve the performance of the process in question?

  • Do

With the planning done, the next step is to implement the change on a small scale for testing purposes. This step allows you to make sure your improvements to the process will have the desired effect.

  • Check

The next step is to review the outcome of your test. Did your improvements have the desired effect? Look at the data from your test to see how performance has been altered. If successful, move to the next step. If not, this is the point to go back and try again, building on what you now know.

  • Act

Finally, if your results show success — that is, the improvements you’ve made work — then the final step is to implement them broadly.

And repeat.

Other practices or styles that are considered to be continuous process improvement come from lean methodologies (maximising value and minimising waste).

The base idea of CPI is fairly simple. You analyse your processes regularly for inefficiencies or faults. Then, you plan how you will improve the process performance. You make the changes on a small scale at first, and check that they work. And if they do, you put them in place. Then, you go right back to the start, looking for other improvement opportunities, ad infinitum.

Automation and CPI

Automation software and your continuous process improvement efforts go hand-in-hand. For example, automation can substantially boost efficiency and accuracy across any processes involving manual data entry. It can (and should) speed up the handling of routine admin tasks. It will free up entire processes – or parts of them – to save you time and money moving forwards.

In short, the more you fine-tune your processes, the more places you’ll find to optimise with automation software.

And while automation cannot make changes to these processes for you, you can use it to do things like alert you to errors. (If, say, a monitored process or system fails).

Continuous process improvement

Business technologies rise (and fall) at pace. Markets shift. Employees come and go, as do their skills and responsibilities.

What this means is that your organisation, its team, and its tech stack change continuously. And in this context of continuous change, your business processes cannot afford to remain static.

Processes should evolve as the business evolves. So, to avoid creating a stagnant environment in which processes are left unreviewed, untouched, and rigid – you need continuous process improvement.

Useful links

A beginner’s guide to BPR

Why we should embrace automation disruption

What is a fully automated enterprise?