6.5.3 How to implement Continuous Improvement

The implementation of Continuous Improvement philosophy can be summarised in the next statement: a company-wide process of sustained and focused incremental innovation.

The following figure explains the above mentioned statement.1
Click on each element to see the explanation.



Continuous Improvement implies an extensive drive, steadily building-up skills and resources within the organisation to find and solve problems. There are many different techniques which can help to facilitate the implementation of this philosophy. Some of the most frequently used techniques include:

  • Brainstorming
  • Problem solving cycle
  • Cause and effect diagrams
  • Checksheets
  • Flow diagrams

Brainstorming

Although Brainstorming is one of the most well-known tools for generating ideas, previous components of this guide deal with other different tools such as: 6-3-5 Method, Analogical reasoning, Attribute listing, Internal innovative proposals, Six hats, TRIZ and TILMAG.
For further information about Brainstorming and above mentioned tools see components 4.1 to 4.9 of this guide.

Problem solving cycle
This technique is a cycle of finding and solving problems, Fig. 3 gives an explanation of such a cycle.

 Fig. 3 Problem solving cycle2

This is a technique for experimenting and evaluating in which you can learn in each step of the process. Once you have found the solution it can be implemented in your process.

Cause and effect diagram3

This technique, also called the “Fishbone diagram” because of its shape and “Ishikawa diagram” because its inventor graphically illustrates the relationship between a given outcome and all the factors that influence this outcome by:

  • Determining the factors that cause a positive or negative outcome or effect
  • Focusing on a specific issue without resorting to complaints and irrelevant discussion
  • Determining the root causes of a given effect
  • Identifying areas where there is a lack of data.

The following figure shows the principle of a cause and effect diagram and the steps involved in constructing one.

 Fig. 4. Principle and steps to construct cause and effect diagrams

Fig. 5 shows an example of a cause and effect diagram. A publication team for an engineering department wants to improve the accuracy of their user documentation. As part of the first step, they create a cause and effect diagram to get a picture of what causes a document to be error-free.

 Fig. 5. Example of a cause and effect diagram

Checksheets4

A check sheet is a simple form you can use to collect data in an organised way and easily convert it into useful information. With a check sheet you can:

  • Collect data with minimal effort
  • Convert raw data into useful information
  • Translate opinions of what is happening (the data says the problem is…)

The events being observed must be clearly labelled. Everybody has to be looking for the same thing.
Data collection process should be as easy as possible. Simple check marks are enough.
Similar problems must be within similar groups in order to make the data valuable and reliable.
The format used should give you the most information with the least amount of effort. 
SEE example Check sheet example.pdf

Flow chart5

A flow chart is a diagram illustrating the activities in a process.
A flow chart can tell you a lot about a process and the activities involved e.g. are all the activities really necessary? What controls are in place?

Flow charts are a useful tool to use when improving a process, especially when you are planning to collect data or to implement a solution. They can also be used to document a new process or to compare an existing process with an “ideal” process. They are good communication tools because by using standard symbols, everyone will have the same understanding of the process.

Those standard symbols are:

  • Stretched circle: start or end of a process
  • Rectangle: step or activity in the process
  • Diamond: decision point
  • Arrow: direction of flow

The following figure shows an example of a flow chart:

 Fig. 6. Flow chart

Please stop and think: in your working environment, is this philosophy known and practiced?


1 Fundación COTEC, CENTRIM, IRIM, Manchester Business School, Socintec (1998) TEMAGUIDE. A Guide to Technology Management and Innovation for Companies. A research undertaken with support of the EU Innovation Program.
2 www.pac-it.org.nz/resources/Problem_solving_cycle.pdf
3 http://web2.concordia.ca/Quality/tools/12fishbone.pdf
4 http://web2.concordia.ca/Quality/tools/6cksheet.pdf
5 Fundación COTEC, CENTRIM, IRIM, Manchester Business School, Socintec (1998) TEMAGUIDE. A Guide to Technology Management and Innovation for Companies. A research undertaken with support of the EU Innovation Program.