Continuous Improvement in Practise

I was lucky enough to hear some fantastic speakers at our recent Melbourne User Summit, along with clients who gathered to learn and share practical ways to unleash an unstoppable improvement culture within their companies.

There’s nothing better than hearing stories about what other companies are doing, for tips and tricks, so I’ve summarised some of the best examples.

What do Contiki, Toyota and City of Boroondara Council have in common?!

Well for a start Contiki’s founder, John Anderson talked about a few key factors he believed were behind Contiki’s success.  These included:

  • Their decision to offer a higher quality experience than their competitors
  • A continued quest for improvement – they never stood still
  • They encouraged and captured feedback, input and ideas from everyone in the business - from head office staff to the bus drivers and the chefs - and importantly, also from their customers

A Council with a Customer Experience Strategy

Anastasia Fountis, City of Boroondara’s Continuous Improvement Officer shared how the council decided to put customers at the centre of how they operate, and what they did to achieve this:

  • Applied a Lean model, however, in this case, they replaced the “eliminating waste” language with a focus on identifying improvement opportunities. This model now works across the council’s multiple, diverse departments.
  • Implemented a 12-week process improvement programme dubbed “Pi”.
  • Sparked staff motivation with short improvement bursts, focused on quick wins with an added element of competition via KPI’s as well as a requirement to report progress back to the CEO & the Executive team. This led to faster and better results, including time-savings and a shift in culture.
  • Used Promapp as an enabler for the programme, to capture the processes and feedback, and provide an easily referenceable source of process knowledge as changes were embedded into new ways of working

Processes Support Change at Toyota Australia

Gaining an edge through continuous improvement or ‘Kaizen’ is at the heart of Toyota’s manufacturing activity. So it was natural that they would leverage this way of thinking to manage a significant business transition. As Grant Barling, Corporate Manager at Toyota Australia explained, using Kaizen and Lean thinking was invaluable when the company prepared to moved their sales and marketing operations from Sydney to Melbourne.  They needed to minimise business disruption, engage staff and act quickly to capture the knowledge of hundreds of staff members.   Here’s what they did:

  • Took a PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) approach, to capture process knowledge quickly and effectively and enable a smoother transition, with the bulk of their time spent in the planning stage.
  • Focused on following and recording the processes themselves rather than on scrutinizing individual team members. This took the pressure off individuals and allowed for a more honest record of how things were really done.  
  • Empowered teams to look for ways the processes could be improved - rather than just transfer “as is” processes to the new operation in Melbourne, they used the move as an opportunity to improve them
  • Maintained momentum and ensured management oversight and staff participation with executive support and regular reports back to the Board

Maintaining Momentum – the Key to Success

A lot of the discussion at the User Summit was around how to make continuous improvement an ongoing part of normal, everyday business.

Projects aimed at a spike in improvement or to smooth a specific challenge are valuable – but that value can sometimes end when a project finishes. The real edge comes when you keep at it – when improving “the way you work” becomes embedded in the way you do business.

One thing our Case Study speakers pointed to was the practical importance of a simple process mapping tool.

To create a culture of improvement, staff need to:

  • Have input into the work they do
  • Be engaged with their processes
  • Be motivated to keep improving

Allowing staff easy access to simple processes is the bare minimum. Staff also must be able to – and encouraged to - tweak processes and provide feedback as they spot ways they could be doing things better.  

The Bottom Line

A shift towards a continuous improvement culture is easier said than done. It’s why those businesses that get it right, are able to maintain a significant edge over their competition. Short improvement sprints are a good place to start. But then you need a clear plan and programme in place to keep it going.

If you’d like to learn more about process improvement, check out our other blog posts or jump on one of our weekly webinars!


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