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Continuous Improvement Primer

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There are many methods for business process management. Here’s an overview of popular approaches for “continuous improvement” that covers techniques from the turn of the last century to those which are still being developed.

With terms like Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and Total Cost of Ownership appearing everywhere, it is difficult to know which of these ideas is meaningful or appropriate for a business challenge. Management techniques are sometimes revolutionary and sometimes just temporary fads that have no lasting impact. A primer on these topics, which can be broadly titled Continuous Improvement (CI), is essential for anyone interested in working smarter.

Assembly Line

© Flickr user bsoist

To help organize the field, AccelaWork describes all CI approaches as falling into one of five categories:

  • Analytical methods, the oldest change management techniques, emphasize a top-down approach of reviewing current work in great detail and suggesting improvements. This includes Scientific Management/Taylorism, Total Cost of Ownership, and Lean Manufacturing.
  • Statistical methods make use of the mathematics of probabilities to deduce larger forces from tests on sample data. This requires tremendous knowledge of complex statistics and teams of experts (sometimes called “black belts”) to review, motivate and implement changes. The most famous statistical method is Six Sigma.
  • Experimental methods mostly arise from the post-war Japanese economy. Unlike analytical and statistical approaches, tools such as Kaizen and the Toyota Production System empowers individual workers to generate ideas and even to stop the factory line to improve quality. Although effective in many environments and often quite inexpensive, these concepts are less useful for large scale changes.
  • Individual methods describe organizational change as an outgrowth of personal change. Employees who are motivated, passionate and humane toward each other form the foundation for larger improvements and stewardship in the company as a whole. For example, consider Servant Leadership: a rapidly growing approach to individual improvement based on putting others first to create a more cohesive, service-oriented team.
  • Hybrid methods combine other approaches to better suit the changing needs of the workplace. Most notably, researches have merged Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing to form Lean Six Sigma. This technique ensures that a process can be brought under statistical control while also emphasizing the reduction of waste.

There’s plenty more to cover, of course, but this grouping help provides a simple overview of the main schools of thought. For more information, contact our business improvement experts today.

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