6 Steps for Continuous Improvement

6 Steps for Continuous Improvement

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It is amazing how much any business, no matter the service or product it offers, can benefit tremendously from the strategic use of the word ‘repeat.’ When you repeat something in your business, are you getting better at it, or simply repeating? Does your business look like an upward spiral or more like a dog chasing its tail? If you want to leverage repetition to turbo-charge your business, consider the following six steps:

1. Pick a worthy process to improve
There’s not much point in becoming world-class at something that plays a minor role in your business. Use the 80/20 rule to determine one or two major actions in your business that – if repeated and improved – could result in a big lift to your bottom line. The principal behind the 80/20 rule says that 80% of any outcomes are the result of 20% of the inputs into a given company or project. In other words, it is important to recognise which 20% is responsible for 80% of your outcomes to be as efficient as possible.

2. Expect imperfection and execute anyway
We’ve all heard of analysis paralysis. An even bigger problem that afflicts many businesses is ‘perfection paralysis.’ They don’t follow the ‘ready, aim, fire’ approach, but instead go ‘Ready, aim, aim, aim…’ Don’t bet the farm on your early attempts, but don’t delay, either: One quick, early action is worth a hundred timid measurements.

3. Document and measure
Here’s the boring part. Nobody likes to write down processes and measure them because it seems like a waste of time. Believe me when I tell you from 40 years of business experience that this boring clerical function can make you millions of rands. When you lay down a process on paper, suddenly you begin to ask questions: “Why do we do it this way? When did we change the procedure? Who’s handling this part?” It’s not the writing down or measuring that will make you money, but instead the questions, answers and changes that will follow.

4. Trust but verify
As I said, few companies take the time to document their processes. Even fewer will follow up to ensure the process on paper is what’s being executed. I once had a rude awakening when I discovered that several processes were not being followed and no one had informed me. For the following two weeks, my senior staff and I met for hours after 5 pm to walk through every line item of every key process in the company to make sure we were looking at the actual processes. Afterwards, I finally felt like I could trust the numbers again and make sound decisions.

5. Learn and improve
This is where you turn the dog-tail chasing into an upward spiral of profits. You know your processes, you’re measuring them accurately and you’re asking questions. Are you getting better in terms of speed, profit margins, safety or any other critical measures? If not, why not? Who knows the bottlenecks intimately and could suggest improvements? What new techno-logy or approach might strengthen a weak link?

6. Never stop
The bad news is you can never really cross this item off your to-do list. The good news is you should never want to, because it’s what separates world-class companies from the rest. No matter what your industry, continuous improvement is one of the best-kept secrets in business. It’s also a secret hidden in plain sight for any entrepreneur with the awareness and discipline to profit from it.

Bill Bartmann
Bill Bartmann is the world's foremost authority on profiting from government bailouts.