The other day I happened upon some work I had done a very long time ago and I thought to myself what dummy did this? Then I realized it was me… That got me to thinking about continuous improvement and how we do that in our own lives both professionally and personally without even thinking about it. But it’s not something we always do (or do well) in our own small businesses.
Think about all the things you do to try to improve personally. From a professional standpoint you maybe try to read a book every month about professional development. Or maybe you go to classes or research things on the internet to get better at your day to day tasks. Just by doing your day to day tasks you are always in a state of constant learning because the day-to-day grind tends to force us to do that.
Even personally, think of all the things you do to learn and improve. You might take a cooking class or an art class to learn new skills. Maybe you hike or go to the gym to stay in shape and improve your physical health. Even watching television can at times teach us new things that we didn’t know before.
So why do we do all these things? Because as people we naturally want to evolve, learn, and do things to improve ourselves and our environment.
Why do we shy away from doing these sorts of activities for our business though?
The short answer is because it’s usually a much more difficult process.
There’s outside factors to consider, other people involved and usually some pain and hard work. At Blaze IT, we’ve talked a lot about being agile in your small business and how to take steps to apply those ideas to your every day routine. Continuous improvement falls right into that whole philosophy.
When you see something in your business that could (and should) be handled better, what are some of the common hurdles that you must get over?
The “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. This is a close cousin to the “but we’ve always done it this way” slogan.
Fear that improving a process is going to make a person or their specific job no longer needed.
So, how do we combat these common hurdles? Especially when we can be prone to falling into some of them ourselves? I sometimes find myself doing things a certain way just because I’ve “always done them like that”. A good approach is to follow the PDCA methodology (Plan, Do, Check, Act)
Below are the steps you can take to make sure that you are continuously improving your business and overcoming the challenges associated with making those improvements.
Plan - Identify a specific problem that needs to be solved. Try to avoid generalizations like just saying something is broken. Figure out specifically what in the process is broken so you can focus on that area. Get Buy-in from the people involved in the process by including them in the solution. Get their input and help building what the future state looks like.
Do - When coming up with a way to improve the process, break it up into smaller bite-sized steps. It’s always easier to iteratively improve rather than taking a big-bang approach and doing everything at once. This allows for more time to tweak things and avoids the overwhelming feeling that sometimes comes with taking on the whole thing at once. Decide on the iterative steps to take and then as a famous shoe company says, just do it!
Check - Create a feedback loop as the new steps are being rolled out. And ultimately make sure they understand the value that changing brings to them. Now, rather than managing a spreadsheet somewhere they can be doing tasks that are more valuable to the business and ultimately more fulfilling for them.
Act - Rinse, lather, and repeat
That last bullet point is especially important. You can never rest when it comes to continuous improvement and making both your business and you better and more efficient. Just because something was the best way to do it 2 years ago doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it now. If you always make sure to take small steps to make things better, you will avoid the stagnation that comes when inefficient processes are left to their own devices.