How to Befriend Digital: A Continuous Improvement Story

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In my business, the projects worth doing are often big ventures. They’re the ones that are daunting in scale of effort and scope of impact. We think of these projects, things like creating an online store or implementing a digital inventory system, in terms of when we’ll do them not if we’ll do them. Of course we’ll tackle these efforts eventually, because we need our business to succeed. But when? We’ll start when things quiet down or when we hire someone to help or when the kids go off to college. The problem arises when “when” becomes “never,” because we never get started.

Continuous improvement methods can help you take small steps that lead to successful implementation of these big, complex projects.

In my previous post I wrote about how current business systems were built in the industrial era, a time when products took a great deal of time and effort to build. Every step was designed for repeatable, perfect output, so once the products came off the manufacturing line, they were final. We still behave as if we’re operating under those same system constraints, afraid to implement anything unless the entire process has been designed for that perfect output. But in a digital world, the opportunities for continuous improvement are unlimited.

 Bias for Action

This digital era demands a shift in our approach. Instead of waiting for perfection, we choose a bias for action. We test for outcomes continuously and make decisions driven by data. Both Lean and Agile provide a road-map for continuous improvement that don’t take a great deal of training or expertise to implement.

Here’s how to use continuous improvement for your business challenges:

  1. Map the customer’s ideal journey.  Note that for an internal process, the “customer” is the user of the process. In our inventory system example, the journey map identifies each step in your ideal vision for tracking inventory using an automated system. Be sure to capture all the steps required for inventory management in your business even if your current automated systems don’t provide those features. This allows you to create and customize an “inventory management service” specific to your business needs.
  2. Identify the frontline staff.  Who will support the customer? Include everyone who interacts with the customer as they use the solution. For the inventory system, who is entering or changing product definitions? These people are the frontline staff in the inventory management service you develop. You need to define how they use the system to deliver the service.
  3. Identify the backend support.  This includes staff, processes and technology required to deliver the complete ideal journey. For the inventory system, how would relationships with your suppliers need to change to support your ideal journey? What people or processes would be needed to support those relationships?
  4. Find the piece of the journey that you can easily implement.  For the inventory service, it might be creating unique inventory numbers for each item in the store. The next easy piece might be identifying places in the flow of items through your store that you want to track. Create a testing goal for this implementation – what will success look like? How will you measure success? This could be a measure of satisfaction, throughput, time, money, etc. Even if you aren’t sure what the target should be, take your best guess so you have a way to track your improvements.
  5. Iterate.  Continue to find pieces of the journey to implement, test and refine. It’s important that you keep momentum going and continue to test your progress.

Results of Your Continuous Improvements

Look back once you’ve completed implementation of the entire journey. You’ll see two results:

  • You have implemented a significant new system that at the beginning, looked too big and complex to tackle.
  • More importantly, you discovered an Agile approach to operating your business that’s essential to continued success in the digital world. You now possess the knowledge, expertise, and confidence to evolve and to meet future business challenges.

Want help uncovering the path to continuous improvement in your business? Send email for a free consultation.

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