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Incremental Improvement: Not Just for the Factory Floor.

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Sep 28, 2015 12:09:27 PM

Continuous-Improvement-400x240If you do a bit of reading about  improvement methodologies like Lean, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, or Toyota Kata, you might come away with the impression that incremental improvement is only applied to manufacturing processes. Manufacturing is often the focus of the literature because these methodologies and the concept of Kaizen (good change) were first applied to the production of automobiles in post-war Japan. But incremental improvement can be applied to any business process, in any department, in all types of organizations.

Incremental improvement can be applied to any business process, in any department, in all types of organizations.

We are huge believers that ideas for improvement should come from front line employees. They likely know where waste and defects creep in. But sometimes it is helpful to seed your incremental improvement initiative with a few processes that might present opportunities for improvement. Here are some areas where our clients have successfully reduced waste, increased efficiency, cut costs, and increased revenue.


A lot of people don’t really think of sales as a business process (especially sales reps), but there are a lot of processes that surround it that commonly introduce unnecessary delays and inefficiencies. You might want to examine:

  • Contract creation and approval – Is there a smooth flow as the agreement is created, presented to the customer, negotiated, approved, and signed?
  • Expense report processing – Sales people tend to be the organization’s most frequent travelers. Are they spending time on a clunky expense process rather than making calls?
  • Sales enablement asset management – Is it easy for sales reps to get the latest marketing collateral into the hands of their prospects?


Accounting is such a regimented function that processes internal to the department are usually pretty cut and dry. However, our clients often find opportunities to improve the points where accounting meets the rest of the organization. For example:

  • Purchase orders – Does everyone in the organization understand when a PO is needed, how to properly complete the form, and how to get approval?
  • Invoice processing – Do invoices arrive at the accounting department with all of the necessary information and approvals to process them?
  • Vendor management – When new vendors are added, does accounting get the right information and documents to get them set up right off the bat?

Human Resources

HR departments are often tasked with supporting improvement initiatives through employee engagement programs and training. Why not look for opportunities for positive change within this function as well? Processes that make good targets include:

  • Employee onboarding – Is there a defined process for bringing a new employee onboard that can be consistently replicated?
  • Recruiting – Recruiting is one of the biggest challenges for most HR managers. An analysis of the process from the creation of the job requisition through to the presentation of an offer might be of value.
  •  Staff development – Are there programs to help employees develop new hard skills and soft ones, like cross-functional collaboration? Are they being deployed most efficiently and everywhere they are needed?   

These are just a few ideas to get your juices flowing. There are likely dozens of processes in your organization that might be ripe for incremental improvement. Why let the folks in manufacturing have all the fun?

What non-traditional areas have you found opportunities for incremental improvement? Leave a comment and tell us!

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