The generation now entering the workforce will never use a payphone, never write a check, never get off the couch to turn the channel, and never look up movie times in the newspaper. Things that all seemed normal and permanent to those of us over 40 are simply not things anymore. The digital age is upon us, and we can make calls from anywhere, send money with a click, click through hundreds of channels, and buy movie tickets with an app. Change isn’t always easy, but for those who embrace them, new ways of doing things make us more efficient, better connected, and more flexible.
This is true for organizations as well. Modern technology continues to advance and offer organizations more efficient, scalable, and effective ways of doing things. Core business functions still exist. The sales, HR, R&D, production, accounting, and logistics functions continue to be essential, but now they are assisted with software and other technology that aids performance. Likewise, a new digital continuous improvement approach has emerged and been embraced by successful organizations in every sector.
What is Digital Continuous Improvement?
At its core, digital continuous improvement is no different than the CI philosophy that has been practiced by organizations since the 1940s. It is an organized, organization-wide, every-day effort to get a little bit better all of the time. Everyone in the organization is expected to contribute, and small wins are celebrated. The difference is that instead of using paper and physical artifacts like huddle boards and Kanban signs, software is used to create a unified platform for improvement work.
What Are the Benefits of Digital Continuous Improvement?
Companies can make daily improvements with our without software designed to support it. The Japanese proved this in the post-World War II era when they expertly deployed tools and techniques to make their manufacturing capabilities the envy of the world. But there some fantastic advantages available to organizations today that weren’t available then. By moving your CI efforts into the cloud, you enjoy:
Visual Management: If you are using analog tools for improvement work, it is impossible to get a picture of what is happening across the organization. By making the information digital and accessible, leaders can easily see which projects are underway, who is engaged in improvement, and what areas of the organization are impacted. Even individual contributors get a dashboard that shows their activities, assignments, and goals all in one place.
Effective Cross-functional Collaboration: Working together with people in other departments to solve problems can be a challenge if there isn’t a central platform for coordinating efforts. Even email doesn’t really help because information and artifacts are easily lost or passed over. When everyone is working with a single source of the truth, communication is improved, and work moves along faster.
Organizational Alignment: One of the biggest challenges that organizations without digital continuous improvement face is keeping everyone aligned with the strategic priorities. Employees may not understand the priorities and take on projects that, while helpful, don’t impact the most critical objectives. Leaders without software don’t have a way to track which projects are mapped to which goals. Digitization solves this by allowing leaders to cascade goals down to the individual level and receive reports on what work is being done on each critical goal.
Impact Reporting: Calculating the financial and non-financial impact of improvements is essential for executive and employee engagement. When you can put a metric in place that proves an improvement was beneficial, people are more willing to commit to the work, and the kaizen mindset is more likely to spread. That’s a tough ask for manual CI implementations. It is easy, however, with the right digital CI system in place. Not only can the immediate impact in terms of measures like cost savings, safety incidents, customer satisfaction, time to market, and product quality be measured, but so can the long-term impact.
Improvement Broadcasting: In addition to sharing the impact of improvement work, recognizing the people who contribute to positive change is essential if you want more people to engage. With a paper system, this step is often neglected. The best digital improvement systems have improvement broadcasting built-in. Managers can easily let everyone know when someone on their team has gone the extra mile.
Which CI Techniques are Supported by Digital Continuous Improvement Software?
Every continuous improvement tool can benefit from digitization simply because online management of improvement projects is more efficient than paper-based techniques. All of the necessary information is in one place. Everyone who needs it has any time access, and data is available for reporting. Here’s a closer look at how some of the most popular techniques benefit from a digital approach to improvement.
Standard Work: The documented current best practice for performing any process or task is called Standard Work. It forms the baseline for all improvement projects. Software supports both the creation and execution of Standard Work. The process of crafting the Standard is tracked as an improvement project, which involves all of the stakeholders, especially process operators. It then becomes the home for the current Standard. When an opportunity to improve the Standard is recognized, a new cycle begins.
Huddle Meetings: Daily huddle meetings are a widespread practice in organizations dedicated to CI. Teams assemble around a board that displays the status of improvement projects to discuss ongoing work and new challenges. Improvement software offers a digital version of the huddle board, making it easy for people to participate even if they aren’t in the room. It creates a record of the work and helps leadership stay informed about the improvement work of all the teams they oversee.
DMAIC and PDSA: DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) and PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) are different versions of the cycle for continuous improvement. Each ensures thoughtful, controlled, and effective change. Digital improvement management software is used to document each step of either cycle, notify participants when action is needed, and calculate the impact of the improvement.
Gemba Walks: During a Gemba walk, a supervisor, manager, or executive leader visits the place where work is done to observe, show respect, and explore opportunities for improvement. Software creates a digital home for any opportunities to be considered for implementation. They are recorded, evaluated, and executed. All of the documentation, images, and process data gathered during the walk is available for quick access when the improvement work begins.
Value Stream Mapping: Value stream mapping is the process of documenting the current state of a process in terms of how value morphs from raw resources and work to something for which the customer is willing to pay. Software can be used to make the map digital, which is useful, but the real advantage comes when digital solutions are used to implement improvements that the value stream map makes apparent.
Kanban: Kanban is a visual management tool used to help visualize the flow of work, find any interruptions, and make any backlogs easy to spot. Digital Kanban allows for widespread participation and ensures that the right people are proactively alerted when the flow of work is blocked or uneven.
Catchball: In continuous improvement, Catchball is the simple yet powerful process of moving ideas from one person to another, which feedback and data added at each point. It helps overcome the chain of command and departmental barriers to collaboration. With a digital continuous improvement approach, users create a record of the ideas as they move back and forth. This is undoubtedly more efficient than paper and even superior to email.
Hoshin Kanri: Hoshin Kanri is a strategy deployment technique that involves identifying a few breakthrough objectives that can be achieved in 3-5 years. Software supports Hoshin planning by aligning each person’s individual goals with the organization’s strategy in the tool that they use improvement work every day. This brings life to the strategy and helps people make decisions that move the organization ever closer to the breakthrough objectives.
Rapid Improvement Events: Rapid improvement events, also called Kaizen events, are a technique for getting fast results by placing intense focus on a problem for a short period. Improvement software gives organizations a unified platform for collecting information, alerting team members about important milestones, and tracking progress as it happens. If the team finds opportunities for improvement that are beyond the charter of the event, they can easily be captured for future action.
Moving from analog to digital continuous improvement represents a huge leap forward for many organizations. Change isn’t always easy, but without it, the competition will be in a better position to prevail. If you are ready to make it happen, we are here to support you in every way.
Related: Some tips for making sure your CI software implementation is a success.