The field of project management is a complex one. It combines technical expertise with efficient processes and the soft skills necessary to collaborate as a team and accomplish a desired outcome. And it happens at every scale, from tiny, one-person jobs to massive projects with hundreds of people involved. And the concept of continuous improvement teaches us that there’s one thing every project has in common, regardless of its size: The possibility to make it better without huge overhauls.
Chances are you’ve heard the term continuous improvement, a concept derived from the manufacturing world back in World War II when Toyota spearheaded the practice of quality circles, which are small teams performing one function in the production line. These teams come together to study the process, identify areas of improvement and propose solutions.
Continuous improvement is also known as Kaizen, a Japanese term that breaks down into kai, or change, and zen, which means good. The literal translation of Kaizen reflects more of an individual act of improvement than a process. The concept has evolved over the decades. But the main philosophy remains — small actions that compound to provide great results.
This article breaks down the top strategies and techniques you can use to identify and address areas of improvement within your organization for smoother, more successful projects.
6 Continuous Improvement Techniques You Can Try Today
The 5 Whys
A very simple exercise, this tool consists of defining the problem with a basic statement and asking why five times in order to get to its root. This exercise can go as far as you want if you simply keep asking why until you reach the real root, but the objective here is to find what you need to address instead of focusing on the symptoms of the problem.
Why would you want to do this? It’s not unusual to look at a problem and get caught up on its effects instead of finding ways to solve it. But if you only solve the symptom, the same issue will keep showing up over and over. So reaching that root cause is critical to prevent the issue from happening again.
The 8 Wastes
Lean operations is a sub-category within continuous improvement that focuses on reducing waste and increasing value for customers wherever possible.
The 8 Wastes exercise focuses on the principle of Lean Manufacturing: To optimize the use of resources as much as possible by reducing waste to the absolute minimum. In order to do this, the 8 Wastes method takes eight aspects into account:
- Non-utilized talent.
Similar to a mind map, the Fishbone diagram is an exercise in which you take one issue and start tracing out different potential causes for it, breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks; once you’ve identified the potential causes, you break those down to the smallest possible pieces.
This exercise is a really exhaustive evaluation that presents you with a comprehensive look at the current problem and offers the opportunity to find more detailed solutions attacking the root cause.
DMAIC is a quality strategy PMs use to identify problems — and their solutions — through data and testing. This method is at the core of Lean Six Sigma and dives into the cause of a problem in order to achieve its improvement.
Each step of this analysis is meant to address a specific part of the process, breaking it down into:
- Define: Focus on one specific problem to solve with this exercise.
- Measure: Check the current performance and measure a way to keep track of its progress in order to have a reliable assessment mechanism.
- Analyze: Break the problem down until you find its possible causes, which will allow you to determine the steps to improve it.
- Improve: Here’s when you implement those changes that were defined in the previous stage.
- Control: This is the stage to make sure that the steps you took to solve the problem are bringing about the expected result, by using the data from the Measure part of the process.
This particular exercise works great with marketing or sales goals and any other objective that has a clear metric because KPIs are very easy to track.
The Bottleneck Analysis is a tool that helps your team find out which steps in the process are responsible for slowing down results.
The first step is to define the problem. Next, break down every step involved in the process. At some point, you will find the obstacle holding back the process. Once you’ve identified this obstacle, start thinking of ways to tackle it.
Many companies and teams implement SOPs (standard operating procedures) without realizing that these are a core element of project management.
Creating (and documenting) a standard procedure ensures that everyone knows exactly what to do at every stage of the process. Documenting the tools required for every task, the order in which the tasks will be executed, and who is in charge of each task is an easy way to help the process run without any hiccups.
Standard Procedures are also an efficient training tool for new employees and help keep everyone on the same page, as there’s clear documentation regarding every step.
Implementing Lean Operations To Transform Your Organization
We live in a world that praises innovation and disruption. So it may seem like taking small steps to improve an existing process falls short of today’s expectations. However, there’s a reason why the world’s largest organizations, from Nissan to Nestlé and beyond, rely on continues improvement: It has the power to make good things great.
At Holloway Consulting Group, we educate, coach, and provide project management services using Lean Six Sigma, a managerial approach that focuses on reducing waste to improve performance and outcomes for clients. If you’re looking for the best way to leverage your resources and grow, book a consultation now to learn more about this lean management methodology.