Why is consistency important? Your customers want predictability. In any business, customers expect the same standards every time. The practice of standardised work can help you deliver a great service or product, and ensure that your customers receive this value the same way every time.
3 minute read
Consistency establishes reputation
When people experience variation in the level or quality of service that you offer, in that moment you show that your delivery can be inconsistent. Not bad, just not the same every time. And this makes it difficult for customers to build trust and make recommendations. According to Strikedeck 89% of customers say they get frustrated by inconsistency but only 1 in 26 unhappy customers make a complaint. If you want to build advocates for your brand, consistency is everything. Because when it all comes down to it- a brand is all about consistency.
The late Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and author, said: "Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals."
Standardised work formalises best practice
One way to achieve consistency is to document current best practices to create Standardised Work, one of the most powerful but underused tools in organisations. This is a set of tasks and standards to produce the highest possible degree of consistency. It represents the best sequence and most efficient methods to perform a process.
1. Standardised Business Processes
When processes are standardised, each person who performs a task follows a method that is based on best practice.
According to AIIM research, companies that implement Business Process Management and standardise work methods for their team can benefit from as much as a 41% increase in ROI within one year.
Standardising work reduces the opportunity for human error or variations in the standard of service. Promoting a consistently high job quality will produce a positive experience for your customers whilst minimising the opportunity for errors that might lead to costly rework.
Standardised work enables tasks to be evaluated and managed in terms of safety and efficiency, meeting legislative requirements for compliance. Measures for managing and mitigating risks can be built into standard work processes, making work safer. As the tasks are evaluated and appropriately resourced, it avoids the need for staff to take risky shortcuts, which could lead to a mishap.
3. Improved profitability
Once a process is fully understood, it improves the ability to cost and price it accurately. Furthermore, it makes work measurable and increases the predictability of results. Fewer problems allow for a proactive business approach, minimising the need to fight fires, and focus on the important things like generating new business and growth.
4. Baseline for Continuous Improvement
Standard work facilitates continuous improvement by establishing a baseline of performance. If changes are required, they are easier to implement to a process which has already been evaluated. Opportunities for improvement or to eliminate waste can be easily visualised, making it quicker to adapt to external influences. Standardised work does not lead to inflexibility – just the opposite in fact. It is a structure to promote positive results and productivity, and provides a mechanism for integrating change.
5. Support Your Employees
Your employees are crucial to your day to day success. When tasks are clear and well defined, it reduces the time it takes to communicate your processes to your team. It gives them confidence to do their work, knowing that they always have clear instructions available. This is invaluable for successfully onboarding new members of staff, but also useful for long term employees too. Creating a transparent culture promotes individual responsibility and is an important part of strengthening employee accountability. Furthermore, it is possible to shift the blame for errors from the worker to the system, which is very positive for company culture.
Standardised work, a baseline for Continuous Improvement
Standardised work is established when the baseline is documented, and work is being carried out in a consistent, repeatable manner by anyone with the appropriate training. It's often considered fundamental to Continuous Improvement efforts, where processes are continually refined so that customer needs can be met in increasingly efficient ways.
Continuous improvement is most successful when the people who perform the task highlight and solve the problems that stop work from being carried out efficiently. How can a working culture be created where everyone is proactive and naturally motivated to solve problems? To nurture this behaviour, it’s important to think about mindset.
To successfully nurture a culture of Lean Continuous Improvement (CI), it’s important to think about mindset. How do you create a working culture that is intrinsically motivated to solve problems one small step at a time?
A 1 minute read
The importance of mutual respect
Fundamental to Lean Continuous Improvement (CI) is mutual respect. Respecting the people who get the work done, those who deliver the end value to the customer. Analysing the way someone does their job and asking them to change the way work is hard. Your team may at times be exposed to a range of emotions – maybe fear and vulnerability. Creating an environment of trust and empathy, where concerns can be voiced and opinions can be heard is key to success. People will need to know that they are not alone in feeling uncomfortable and that changes will make their jobs easier and help the company as a whole move forwards.
A workplace constitution for Lean Continuous Improvement
One way that we have approached this within our team at Nuffield Technologies is to create a constitution to promote a mindset for continuous improvement. In any workplace things can get tough and occasionally heated. It’s useful to have this to help get quickly back on track when values are starting to get misaligned. Occasionally there can be a risk that important working relationships or creative potential could become damaged.
When everyone does the right things for the right reasons, it helps our team as a whole to move forwards to achieve our core mission. We talk about it, whiteboard it, sometimes tweak it and print it up on our wall as shared culture. We’ve customised it on our slack channels to continually reinforce it.
What does “change” mean to your business? Is it through large projects or is integral to the way you work? Continuous Improvement is a long term approach to improving products and services through frequent, small changes. Could it help your business to thrive?
A three minute read
Sometimes the need for a major project may seem inescapable, with months of hard work and significant cost attached. Once complete, how likely is it that everything be perfect? Will the new processes stay set in stone until the next upheaval in a few years' time?
Large scale, lengthy projects often present complex risks and challenges, and it’s difficult for any business to commit significant resources when success isn’t guaranteed. Maintaining a competitive edge requires businesses to adapt their processes and methods to effect change faster. An alternative or perhaps complementary approach to breakthrough change, is to make smaller refinements on a regular basis. One approach that companies of any size can leverage for continuous, incremental improvement is called Kaizen. It originated in Japan and the word translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen) and it is often referred to as Continuous Improvement or CI.
History of Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement has its roots in lean manufacturing, a process pioneered by Ford more than 100 years ago which then gained prominence in the late 1940s when it was adopted, and further developed by Toyota. At the time the fledgling Toyota car company realised that, in order to compete with the American car industry, it had to not only understand American mass production methods, but to be able to make them much better. Today, Toyota is admired by the world’s consumers for its products and by business leaders for its ability to turn a profit year on year. Much of this success can be attributed to the Toyota Production System (TPS), an original manufacturing philosophy that aims to make incremental improvements to standardised work to help maximise productivity.
Olympic athletes use this same theory of Continuous Improvement. They look for incremental refinements that gradually improve their performance as immediate and significant gain in ability might be unrealistic. This consistent approach to little and often improvement is what excels them into the world’s elite athletes.
Have you ever tweaked a job sheet, or perhaps made a checklist that makes it quick and easy for others to repeat a process? This is an example of continuous improvement. Put simply, it’s a straight forward approach to improving the way work is done, so activities flow naturally and are easy to repeat.
1 in 10 improvements save money …(each saving on average) $31,043 in the first year of implementation.
1 in 4 improvements save time… (each saving on average) 270 hours in the first year of implementation.
Most successful changes not only save time and money, but can also make your team’s jobs easier (and hopefully more pleasant) to perform.
Companies that follow this principle of Kaizen or Continuous Improvement have a mindset that everything can be improved. They strive to achieve increasing levels of safety, satisfaction and quality.
The Accumulating Power of Tiny Gains
At times all businesses hit challenges that require them to significantly adapt or improve. It's tempting to focus efforts on finding those big solutions that can be implemented as fast as possible. Whilst this approach may sound good in theory, it's not always necessary to tackle big problems with big solutions. Risks and costs can be high, and often these attempts at change can lead to failure.
Continuous Improvement is an incremental and sustainable approach to change. It focusses on small, regular efforts to improve standardised work that are typically both low in cost and risk. Over time the accumulating effect of small improvements is often more powerful than attempts at radical change.
What is Standardised Work in Continuous Improvement?
Standardised work is the habit of documenting and methodically utilising current best practice to complete a process. As this procedure is improved using continuous improvement methods, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements.
Learn more about standardised work, one of the most effective tools in continuous improvement.
Operations of all sizes can benefit from refining their processes using Continuous Improvement (CI). Our belief is that you can integrate continuous improvement techniques simply, by systematically applying common sense.
This guide will help you:
If you want a simple, practical and low investment guide to get started with continuous improvement techniques.
It’s not for you:
If you want an in-depth guide to Kaizen, Lean or Six Sigma.
What Is Continuous Improvement?
Continuous Improvement is a long-term approach towards improving processes, products and services.
It aims to:
Organisations that practice Continuous Improvement make small, incremental changes to existing, standardised work processes. Over time these improvements accumulate to significant gains in overall efficiency and give your business an increasingly competitive edge.
Fundamental to the practice of Continuous Improvement is the habit of standardised work. When everyone follows a well-practised, consistent set of steps that are based on best practice, it reduces fluctuation in process quality. It makes it easier to spot inefficiency and opportunities for improvement. When issues do occur, it can help you put aside time to really understand the root causes and put in place long term fixes. Over time, this habit can iteratively increase the predictability of work and reduce variation in the quality of your service.
The Continuous Improvement Cycle
The goal of Continuous Improvement is to enable teams to iteratively find ways to deliver more value to their customers, faster and more economically. It does this through a feedback loop of planning, executing and reviewing changes.
If improving and innovating is a priority, time has to be made for these activities. Keeping improvement tasks small and achievable helps teams perform their daily work, alongside a limited number of change activities. Invest time into streamlining, and improving the way work is done, so you can increase your capacity and do even more.
The continuous improvement cycle can be summarised as follows:
Step 1: Plan
Starting small is a considered approach if you’re new to continuous improvement. Early education plays a critical part in helping your team understand what CI is, and how to integrate it into their habitual work. Smaller-scale pilot initiatives, where overall risk is low, are more likely to be successful and win the confidence of your team for the future.
This might be a decision that you make on your own, or it might be something you want to bring in your wider team on. Here’s some ideas for a place to get started:
Something that you have recently received complaints about
A process that is frequently repeated and you know it is inefficient
A task that you feel is being carried out by different people in different ways
Try to choose something small, where you feel you may find some quick and easy wins.
Map the Workflow
Once you understand who the key players are in a process it’s time to bring them together to map it. Every team has a process for getting things done, whether it’s formally written down or not. You’re aiming to get the process down on paper as it is now, not how you or anyone else thinks it could be done better. Continuous Improvement is based on the idea that if you don’t know where you are, you can’t get to where you are going.
“One must first understand a process before one can change it, much less, improve it.”
You Will Need: your team, in a room, with a pack of post it notes, whiteboard or spare wall, board markers.
Time: you should be able to achieve this in an hour, although it’s important not to cut your team short. You’re likely to work through group politics and some high value discussions will take place so you’ll need to give your team the time to work through this.
Ice Breaker: to start the exercise give each team member 5 Post-it notes and ask them to individually write down any step that is taken as part of the task on their own. It’s important that the steps are descriptive of the step, so rather than “readings” you might say “take a reading from the water meter” and a separate Post-it for “take a reading from the electricity meter.”
Start sticking the Post-it notes on the wall or whiteboard in the order that the work is done, if they are the same just stick the Post-it notes on top of each other. Don’t worry too much about doing this the “right way.” The right way is the way that helps you and others involved understand the process. A great place to start is simply just using the Post-it notes, a white board or spare wall, but you might want to add copies of forms and photos if they help.
Once done, work through the process and let the discussion evolve. Add more Post-it notes and fill out the process until the team agrees that it is totally mapped out. Remember you are trying to map out how things are done now not how they should be.
Brain-dump Improvement Ideas
As you start to brainstorm ideas your team will naturally start to share the daily issues they face with their work. You’re likely to come across a few ideas of how the process could be improved, or what frustrates them. Start to capture them on separate Post-it notes and start a Brain-dump board of ideas that could be acted on to improve a process.
Useful questions along the way might be:
How do you know what to do next?
How do you know when to start?
What delays you?
Where do you get the detailed information about what you’re doing?
What problems do you have here? (i.e. time wasted, spending too much money etc.).
What are some potential solutions to the problems?
How would you like that process to work?
How can you reduce the time taken to complete a process?
What would happen if that spreadsheet was corrupted?
Are there any easy, top level metrics that you can use to measure this process? Examples might be: number of customer complaints per month, visits to your website, total time taken for the task (you might want to put a nominal estimation on each part of the process). Try and come up with one valuable metric which is an indicator of how successful the process is.
Documenting Standardised Work
If you don’t have process documentation already, this is a great time to document the standardised process electronically. It is dangerous for a business to rely on expertise that is only in your team's heads. Software is useful for drawing this neat final diagram but the Post-it method given here works better for the messy initial stages of creating the process flow.
Group brainstorming ideas into themes
Start to group ideas that sit naturally together or would need to be done together to be effective. You might want a specific theme for quick wins, things that you can do straight away which are quick, easy and need minimum investment.
To close the meeting
As a means of drawing the meeting to a close, ask the team to put the themes into a priority order so that they flow logically in terms of implementation.
Maintaining a backlog of ideas
Software is useful for keeping a record of all of the ideas your team have – something like Trello might work well or a spreadsheet. The method given here works better for the messy initial stages of creating the brain-dump – so don’t be tempted to skip straight to software.
Step 2 – Execute
Time to get going on your plans. Now you have a ‘backlog’ of ideas that are grouped into themes in order of priority. Again this is less about finding the perfect process and more about getting started. Over the next few weeks/months your new visual process will take more form, and solidify into a habit that is easy for your team to maintain.
You will need: your team, the list of prioritised tasks so everyone can see and a spare whiteboard or wall in a central place where your team works which is divided to look a bit like this:
Time needed: 10 mins
Visual To Do List
Limiting Work In Progress
To get started we’re going to limit work in progress. This may seem counter-intuitive, but limiting what’s on your ‘to do’ list can help you finish more work, more quickly by allowing you to focus on a single task rather than being distracted by many. Ask your team if they could commit to achieving just one priority improvement task this week what would it be? Get them to write it on a Post-it and stick it under 'To do'. When a task is started move it to 'Doing' and put a name on it. When it’s complete move it to 'Done'.
Thank everyone for their time.
Step 3 – Review
Once the end of a cycle arrives, take a fresh look back over your progress from the last week, and see what you can gain from it.
You will need: your team around the 'To do' list on the wall.
Time needed: 20 mins.
Gather around the board and review the progress this week. What has worked, what hasn’t worked, are things improving?
Jump back to the Planning step, review the documented Standard Work – what’s changed? Quickly review process documentation and make sure it is up to date with the current state.
Review the metric you chose to monitor the success of the progress – what is it now?
Are there any ideas that can be added to the ideas backlog and does it need to be re-prioritised?
Schedule the kick off meeting for the next cycle.
There is no end to the process of reducing effort, time, space, cost, and mistakes. Return to the first step and begin the next lean transformation.
Thank everyone for their time.
Sustaining Continuous Improvement
By staying disciplined and continuing to follow this strategy, gradually, week-by-week, you'll be able to watch your team tick off and achieve small improvement tasks. As the 'tick off' accumulates you’ll notice that the habit of repeatedly achieving small things can add up to significant change.
Maybe the time and resource that you have saved from gradual improvements can justify more significant investment – new software or machinery. You might even find some business processes that can be dropped entirely – leading to significant savings.
You might want to map-out processes in more detail. Perhaps you might want to review another process and add it into the cycle, use it as a flexible system and mold the basic tools around it to work for your team. Maybe you need a different board for each of your teams.
Start small – get some quick wins with little investment – expand the process carefully.
One of the most destructive habits in a company is the firefighting response. You know the scene: someone alerts the team to an urgent situation, perhaps in response to an angry customer. A chain reaction of activity is set off across the office to try and swiftly handle the issue. Things are eventually brought under control by throwing resource at the situation and everyone is left exhausted . After this period of unplanned activity, everyone gets back to their routine work.
Reacting to unexpected challenges
Many businesses rely on firefighters to keep running and solve unexpected challenges and keep the business operating. Like real firefighters, they are often valued and perhaps celebrated. But have you thought that by rewarding firefighting you might be creating a culture of arsonists? Sometimes firefighting can be exciting, but on closer inspection the vast majority of fires are probably preventable. Why wait for a fire to start burning when you could prevent it starting the first place?
A problem that never occurred is much better than a problem that was fixed. Your day to day operations are the last thing that deserve a firefighting approach – your focus and your time is better spent on preventing the issues occurring rather than putting out the fires.
Does your business rely too much on firefighting?
Here are 12 warning signs that your business relies on fighting rather than preventing fires:
1. Variation in quality
Does your team use different processes to complete the same task? Do you have clear and easy to follow processes that allow work to be easily repeated? If you do already, are they being used?
2. Rework and repeated site visits
Perhaps due to errors, missing equipment or tools. How much rework do you do?
3. Root causes left undiscovered or unfixed
When something last went wrong was time taken to understand the root cause? Was something put in place to prevent it happening again?
4. Missing or late information
Do your team have accurate and timely information to perform their tasks? Are they ever unable to answer questions about the current state of tasks?
5. Bottle necks
How much time do people spend waiting on tools, inventory, people or information to get things done?
6. Customer satisfaction
When did you last ask for or receive feedback on your service? Remember that whereas some customers will complain, some will simply change supplier to avoid the conflict.
7. Long email chains
Do you have long email chains with lengthy discussions around routine issues that could be standardised processes?
8. Blame and lack of responsibility
When things go wrong, are there consistent and unproductive discussions around responsibility?
Are there certain team members that hold all of the knowledge about certain areas of your business? Does your team struggle every time a certain person goes on holiday.
Looking around your office on a normal day, how frequently do you see your team running from meeting to meeting, barely finishing one before heading into the next. Does it look like they are in control or do they feel like they are struggling to stay on top of work.
11. Lack of improvement
When was the last time you improved a process based on feedback from an employee or customer? When was the last time you actively and sought open feedback.
12. Crisis motivation
How often do you see your team responding to crisis situations? Are things genuinely urgent? Could the situation have been better anticipated?
Preventing business firefighting with Continuous Improvement
Solving problems permanently is better than having to deal with them repeatedly. According to McKinsey research, some frustrated General Managers can spend as much as 67% more time dealing with short term, unexpected emergencies and 25% less time setting over all strategy.
It's easy to see how much energy is wasted on running things inefficiently. Spending too much time on some activities, and not enough on others. The key to preventing crises from reoccurring is good time management. Alongside developing a robust system to get to the root causes of issues and implement change.
A simple system to get things under control without becoming overwhelmed is Continuous Improvement. When you succeed in solving underlying problems crises will reduce in frequency. This will not only make the working environment more pleasant, it will free up time and mental energy to move your business forwards.