In today’s business environment, it’s natural for business owners, operators, and supervisors to find themselves in a constant state of evaluation and change.
We’re evaluating our team members, our procedures, the quality of our products, the output of our teams, the timeliness of our production, our customers’ satisfaction level-the list goes on.
And while it can be easy to get overwhelmed with evaluation and struggle to determine the proper course of action, it’s an all-too-important task that needs to be improved continuously. Doing so makes good companies better – better productivity, better products, better profits.
The challenge is that although continuous innovation and improvement is a noble cause, good intentions do not always equate to good – much less great – results.
So, how do we get the most out of our continuous improvement efforts? It starts with having a defined, focused approach to ensure consistency and then being intentional with monitoring and further course correction as needed. One simple way to go about this process is the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle.
Continuous improvement is an ongoing cycle of planning, doing, checking, and acting at its core. The term cycle is significant because this approach to improvement is meant to be ongoing, creating improvements with each iteration of the process.
The planning step is where you identify the area where you’d like to initiate change, identify potential improvement solutions, then select one for testing.
It is the most crucial step of the change management process because this step is the foundation of the change you’ll be implementing. Without a strong foundation, it is much more likely that your efforts will fail.
It’s important to be diligent in defining what you seek to change and why you seek to change before brainstorming and ultimately choosing how you will change.
This approach is very similar to Amazon’s “working backwards” – where their product team creates a mock press release announcing a new product, the problem it solves, and the benefits to the customer. This mock press release then becomes a guiding light in their development process and helps keep the team aligned around the big ideas and plans for the product. Read more about this approach here in a post by ProductPlan.
As Amazon does in their “working backwards” method, try to take into account the bigger picture when determining your “what” and “why”. This bigger picture approach will become the standard for which all your potential solutions (your “how”) will be measured up against.
In Practice: Say, for example, you’re an owner of a small business and believe your accounts receivable process is slow and cumbersome. In this step, you would take time to define the problem, the ideal outcome, and several ways you might accomplish your objective, then select one for trial.
The doing step is where your planned course of action (your “how”) is tested on a small scale so that you may determine how effective it is at addressing the area of concern (the “what”).
In this step, be prepared for things to go wrong and be flexible in your implementation. Change can be challenging, and there may be some resistance to it. Unfortunately, having a defined approach doesn’t change that fact, but remember the “why” behind your change and share your vision with others – this will help secure their buy-in and investment in the process.
Another important aspect of this step is ensuring that you have an accurate baseline of your performance before the corrective action is implemented. This will help you to determine if your corrective action truly improved the situation or not.
In Practice: You might choose to test out a new accounts receivable software on a small batch of your customer accounts so that you may decrease your billing and processing times.
“Checking” is the third step of the process and the one in which you will review the testing that has been done thus far. Following that review, you’ll ultimately determine if the solution that was put into place fulfills the objective you outlined in Step 1 and if the benefits of implementing the change would outweigh the costs of doing so.
If your change has impacts outside of you, include stakeholders in your monitoring and evaluation – members of your team, customers, vendors, etc. This will help ensure that you are taking in a full account of the impacts of the change.
Within this step, it’s important to understand that an all-or-nothing approach is not always appropriate. Just because a solution might not be meeting 100% of the organization’s needs does not mean that it must be “scrapped” altogether. It’s possible that smaller, tactical changes can be made in your execution, resulting in higher performance levels. These mid-course corrections should be made and the “doing” and “checking” steps may be repeated.
In Practice: For our accounts receivable example, perhaps this step consists of doing a time study to examine the time requirements and savings of the new process and gathering experience feedback from your customers. We should also consider additional ongoing expenses (like software fees, for example) that might have a bearing on our cost-benefit analysis.
Finally, the last step of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is acting. This action step is where – if you have found acceptable positive improvements occurred in your “doing” and “checking” steps – you implement the change on a larger scale, and your change becomes the new norm for your team or organization! While this is exciting and certainly warrants celebration, it’s important to remember that continuous improvement is a long-term game. The change you implemented will need to be re-evaluated to identify if any further improvements can be made.
On the other hand, sometimes you might complete the planning, acting, and doing phases and find that you don’t see the expected results. That’s totally okay! One of the primary benefits of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is that it allows you to test change on a smaller scale so that your results can be measured before substantial time and/or money is invested. When this happens, skip the “Acting” step and begin the “Planning” step over to look for a solution that will yield the results you’re looking to achieve.
In Practice: If our review of the new accounts receivable process finds that overall time investment by the team is decreased, the experience of our stakeholders is good, and the costs involved in the change are acceptable, then the new process should be rolled out across all customers! If you do not see the expected results, close the small-scale trial and go back to the planning stage to select a new potential solution for testing.
The next time you hope to implement change, I hope you’ll use the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. While it may appear simple, it’s been proven to create better results over time by creating a consistent method for approaching problems, implementing solutions, and improving through iteration.
For questions or additional information contact us! | (800) 940-8706| learnmore@myHRpros.com