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Running a business

Developing and Using a Continuous Improvement Process Plan

When you strive for excellence, your small business is likely to thrive. Anticipating and meet the needs of your customers while also improving efficiency, productivity, and profits can set you up for success — as can developing and implementing a continuous improvement process (CIP) plan.

What Is a Continuous Improvement Process Plan?

A CIP plan is a structured method designed to improve your business processes, products, and services through a series of steps. It’s a repeatable process based on the Kaizen quality improvement philosophy , which has led to the success of Japanese companies such as Toyota. “Kaizen,” meaning “change for better,” assumes businesses can always find ways to improve customer satisfaction and increase profitability. Building on these principles, quality guru Edward Deming developed a four-stage continuous improvement cycle that eventually came to be known as plan-do-check-adjust. These stages form the basis of a typical CIP plan. It’s also helpful to borrow from Six Sigma’s methodology, which uses a similar repeating cycle of analysis and experimentation to improve existing processes.

Pre-Plan Troubleshooting

Before you start developing a CIP plan, it’s a good idea to identify and define which areas of your business need improvement. Analyzing performance figures against targets lets you monitor trends and dips, and actively seeking out and analyzing feedback from your clients and employees also provides valuable information. It’s also a good practice to have a transparent complaint procedure that’s easy for customers to use. Try encouraging customers to review your products and services online, and consider establishing an employee feedback/suggestions program. You can also review what employees write about your organization on employer rating sites such as Glassdoor. Most important is observing your people carrying out their daily work and studying individual procedures and processes to measure their efficiency.

Plan and Implement

After you identify the issues you need to address, you can start the plan-do-check-adjust cycle to bring about improvements. In the planning stage, you can identify the actions you’re taking, secure the resources you need to bring about the change, and identify your desired, measurable outcomes along with deadlines for their achievement. If you delegate responsibilities to one or more employees, make sure they have the necessary support to get the work done, and agree on dates for any interim reviews against benchmarks to ensure everything goes according to your plan.

It might be a good idea to try out your ideas on a small scale before rolling them out across the organization. It helps if you involve everyone the plan affects, so they feel part of the process. You want your people to work with you rather than against you.

Check and Adjust Your CIP

Once you implement the changes, it’s time to evaluate the results and decide what you want to keep and what needs further tweaking. When you get feedback from everyone involved, be sure to thank employees for their efforts. One way to motivate employees and ensure meaningful discussion about the process is to integrate CIP actions assigned to individuals within their employee performance reviews.

Once the changes prove successful, you can begin rolling them out on a larger scale. If they fail, there’s no reason to get discouraged. Learning from the experience lets you try again with a different approach. Allocating blame if things don’t work is rarely wise, since you want everyone’s participation and support moving forward. By monitoring the implementation of new processes, you can repeat the cycle to bring about further improvements.

CIP Planning in Practice

A CIP plan can work effectively for any size of organization, from an independent contractor with no employees to a large multinational corporation. Imagine you receive increasing amounts of negative customer feedback about late deliveries or goods damaged in transit. Your CIP plan might involve finding a new supplier to deliver products to a small sample of your customers. After a set period, you can check to see if levels of satisfaction improve. If so, you now have the information you need to make an adjustment by using this new supplier for all your deliveries. You can continue the cycle by checking customer satisfaction levels with this supplier.

Also, you can look to other areas of your business that may need improvement, such as your packaging department. Let’s say you manage a small manufacturing company, and your employees are expressing their frustration at time-wasting bottlenecks they think you could eliminate by amending the workflow or purchasing new equipment. Get onto the shop floor, talk to employees, observe procedures, and then plan, do, check, and adjust.

Embedding CIP Planning

For continuous quality improvement to work effectively, it must align with and be an integral part of your company’s long-term strategic plan, not just a one-off experiment. Booking regular meetings with your team is a great way to keep CIP momentum going. Consider the opportunities and potential setbacks from the political, economic, and technological changes on the horizon, and study any upcoming legislation that might have an impact on your business. It’s also a good idea to examine your competitors’ performance to see what they’re doing better than you. Analyzing client and employee feedback along with production/sales figures lets you spot downward trends, so you can remain proactive about putting plans in place to address problem areas and bring about necessary improvements.

Committing to long-term strategic planning that identifies quality improvements and delivers excellence is critical. In a competitive, fast-moving world, using CIP plans can help ensure your business is the one that survives and thrives. QuickBooks also helps businesses thrive. QuickBooks Self-Employed app helps freelancers, contractors, and sole proprietors track and manage business on the go. Download the app.

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