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What is continuous improvement?  

Continuous improvement embodies culture, discipline and performance. For an organisation to continuously find opportunity in innovation, the staff need a free-thinking work environment. This allows for the status quo to be constantly questioned and challenged in a collaborative and non-confrontational manner. Continuous improvement is not only about the processes, but also about the people supporting them, the tools they have at their disposal to do their job, and their understanding of organisational structure and operating model strategy. Continuous improvement is about change and the quality of leadership (in order to drive the former).


Why should businesses be focusing on continuous improvement?

Listening to the voice of your customer starts by engaging your staff in a way that gives them the tools to drive best performance. A disengaged employee will leave your customers wondering whether they are getting the most for their money. With technology transforming the business landscape at exponential speed, it is fundamental that the individual employee has a voice that will be heard when an opportunity is present to innovate a process. In this way, both tactical and strategic measures can be taken to show the customer that your business is ahead of the game. Nobody wants to be perceived by their client as ‘left behind’ in the Digital Transformation / Industry 4.0 Revolution. A well-structured continuous improvement program will not only offer internal benefits to business operations but will be visible to your customers and will give you a competitive advantage.


As a Consultant, how have you supported businesses to achieve this?

Consulting is all about the art of attentive listening. This ensures that your response to the customer delivers a value-add solution, also bringing pleasure - and surprise - when delivered in a timely manner. As a technology provider, there are few things more rewarding than going the extra mile to deliver a solution that offers the creativity of your product team, coupled with the know-how and experience of your consulting team. In doing so, your client will recognise that your actions are in harmony with their business requirements, ultimately building a bond securing that needed long-term trust and facilitating a fluid informational exchange in real time. When new business challenges arise, this will allow you to partner with your client in product enhancement opportunities. It is important to strike the iron when it is hot: if you identify a business problem that you can solve, putting in the late nights and weekends with your team will ultimately pay off when you impress your client with your rapid response time and willingness to offer value, which they often desperately need.  

Regarding continuous improvement, the fundamental principles of Lean are embedded in its logic. Moreover, as a software producer, we offer our customers a service which puts operational excellence at the core of their digital transformation strategy. We do this by providing products that capture know-how that is traditionally maintained in offline spreadsheets or - even worse - is not maintained anywhere, except in the brains of the organisation’s high performers. With technology as it is today, there is no excuse for an organisation’s resilience to be undermined due to unreplaceable resources which cannot move freely within the company, or risk of an individual’s absence. Our products and services allow those high performers to share the wealth through cross training in a more efficient manner and move on to their next innovation adventure on an accelerated path. This offers our customers a more resilient and know-how-oriented organisation which harvests low hanging fruits in record time, while celebrating success and measuring performance in real time.


What is your advice for consultants working in similar areas?

Although the concept has been around for some time, what my team and I have discovered recently is that there is still a large market needing to enhance the implementation and practice of continuous improvement. Moreover, there is an enormous opportunity for software providers to bring the field to its next level. In my opinion, while the majority of the continuous improvement solutions in the market focus on analytics and task management, very few give the subject matter experts a mandate to innovate their company. To me, this is the heart and soul of continuous improvement.

Continuous improvement is all about change. Having worked in large organisations at all levels and seeing first-hand how technology can often intimidate business leaders, it is important that consultants understand an effective approach to win the confidence of those who will ultimately be impacted by the change from the proposed solutions. This goes for all levels, from the top down. In this field, it is very easy to acquire the label of ‘rebel,’ and therefore it is important to know your limits regarding the toleration that senior leaders have for innovation. The key is to find the right executive sponsor and ensure that his messaging to the staff is consistent and constant throughout the program. In this way, this ensures that not only the supporters are engaged, but also the naysayers. I have seen continuous improvement deployments go very sour due to a lack of senior leadership participation, which is very frustrating. After all, if you are not convinced that your Managing Director is convinced, then why should you be?

Leading technology and retail entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, said that those looking to innovate need to get used to long periods of time when you will be misunderstood. If you are a consultant considering promoting continuous improvement, get ready to step out of your comfort zone, be misunderstood and continuously tweak your approach until you find the key.

Andrew Lenti is an active member of The Consultant Hub. He has been working with multinational organisations involved in back office business transformation initiatives since 1999. He has rich experience in working with business leaders at all levels of the organisational hierarchy and has spent vast amounts of time working with shared services and outsourcing centres of excellences on business restructuring implementation projects.

He is one of the founders of TOPP Tactical Intelligence Ltd, a European operational excellence software provider, and is one of the original architects of PRESTO, the cloud-based, Lean Six Sigma continuous improvement business management software. If you would like to learn more, please visit www.toppti.com.