Every good cook knows that you have to taste your food at various points in the cooking process to know if you need to add a little salt, or maybe a splash of lemon juice. Perhaps you’ve made the dish too bland or too dry - both problems that are easily fixed if caught at the right time.
Even if you have a great recipie, set-it-and-forget-it doesn't work. If you don’t taste as you go along, you could end up with an under seasoned, dull, dry mess. And, if you do deliver a delicious dish and save the leftovers, you cannot serve the reheated dish without tasting again, because refrigeration can change the consistency, flavor, density, and texture of a dish. Every time a chef tastes a dish and makes an adjustment, he’s practicing continuous improvement. It works the same in kitchens, factories, tech start-ups, hospitals, and organizations of every sort. Here’s why it makes sense.
Processes Can Always Get Better
Let’s say that your company produces widgets. You’ve delivered a widget to a customer and the customer is satisfied. Shouldn’t you just repeat the process and deliver widget number two to customer number two? After all, you’ve proven that your process works. Sure, you could do that, but…
- Was the widget produced in a way so that both cost and quality were acceptable? Were those the best that they could possibly be?
- Would the customer have paid more for a widget with different features?
- Was the widget produced as quickly as possible?
- Was the widget manufacturing process as safe as possible?
- Were processes documented and standards assigned to ensure the success of widget #2?
In order to thrive in today’s competitive world, business leaders must always be looking for ways to reduce cost, improve customer value, speed up time to market, and create a more consistent product. This is the promise of continuous improvement.
Processes Can Always Get Worse
Entropy is defined as “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” Small changes that people make to processes without deliberate consideration, eventually result in entropy - reduced efficiency, added costs, slower delivery, product defects, and unhappy customers. No one sets out to ruin the process, but it happens just the same. It’s like adding salt before tasting your sauce. It seems like a little thing, but it can result in something inedible. Conscientious continuous improvement wards off entropy. If you're not making things better, they're probably getting worse.
Only if deliberate, well thought-out changes to processes are made and quality controls are implemented at every step can you be sure that processes don’t break down over time. Incremental improvements should be implemented that make processes even stronger than before.
Powered by People
Perhaps the main reason why continuous improvement makes sense is that it relies on the people who are closest to the processes to identify opportunities for improvement and implement them. After all it’s the person who tastes the food who is in the best position to know if it should be altered. It’s hard to see a process flaw from 20,000 feet, so continuous improvement relies on the "feet on the street" to produce good change.
Sure, running your company isn’t exactly like making spaghetti sauce, but the principles of incremental improvement and quality control still apply. Chefs and CEOs alike will succeed with careful attention to detail and a quest for perfection.
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