Evaluating Continuous Improvement Options
Continuous Improvement. It's a phrase that every business talks about. It is heralded as being the way forward for all businesses, especially when it actively engages our staff as we transform how our businesses work and serve our customers.
For many businesses generating the improvement ideas can be a real challenge, and this is often the focus of many articles. But what about the other side of the coin? What about when you have too many ideas and are being overloaded with opportunities to change how your organisation delivers value to its stakeholders and customers?
Before I suggest a way forward for those who find themselves in this situation, allow me to explain two significant problems with not having a method for dealing with this.
The first one is the 'chase many rabbits catch none' syndrome. You keep changing your mind as to what is important, you don't fully commit to any one course of action and you find yourself going round in circles. I've been there and I'm sure that you have at some point in time, where the temptation to start everything at once is great. I'm quite impatient and I want all of the changes to take place immediately. Many of my clients feel the same way too, and it can be hard to temper our enthusiasm. As an observation; you can see this on many business plans - the improvement work is front loaded, not staged throughout the year(s).
The second point is that of managing expectations. You want your teams to engage in the process of change and you need their ideas. You support, train and coach them to generate ideas, but they still need your help to implement and manage the improvement activity. You get an overload of ideas, the day job still needs to be dealt with and you find yourself with a dilemma of what to work on first. As time progresses, and a lack of progress is visible to those contributing their ideas, people start to lose interest in continuous improvement and your efforts become another well meaning project that is consigned to the scrap heap.
So, let me share with you a way to avoid this situation.
One way to get out of this situation is to be as objective as possible about each improvement idea that is presented. If you're a fan of the Pareto principle you will agree that not every idea will be of equal value. Put simply, some ideas will be quick to implement and deliver a massive benefit, and some will be hard work for minimal gains. Evaluating ideas as they are presented effectively eliminates the two issues that I raised earlier; you can prioritise your efforts easily and provide visibility of progress.
The acronym that I use with this type of evaluation is BCS, which standards for Benefit, Cost and Speed. A great improvement will:
- Be of great benefit to the business.
- Cost very little.
- Be quick to implement.
To use the BCS idea you only need to add three columns to the end of your list of improvement ideas. For each idea you score it in term of the three factors I mentioned above. The scoring works as follows:
- 10 = huge benefit and alignment with business objectives.
- 1 = negligible benefits and / or relevance to the business' goals.
- 10 = practically free.
- 1 = capital expenditure proposal required with poor payback period.
- 10 = it can happen today!
- 1 = it will take a long time to matriculate through the various departments and committees to get signed off.
(Note - you can choose any numbers between 1 and 10, the above descriptions are to indicate each end of the spectrum)
To calculate the BCS score you simply multiply the three numbers together, to get a value between 1 and 1000. Ranking the scores now gives you a clear priority list as to what is the best sequence of improvement activity for the business. Whilst the BCS approach isn't 100% objective, it can provide a framework for you to develop for your own business, with guidelines as clear as you need them to be.
Sharing this approach with your teams can really benefit your continuous improvement activities too. If they know how you are scoring the improvements they can make a decision as to whether they need to work on their ideas further (to improve the BCS score) or submit them now. By sharing with them the 'leader board' they can also see how their idea is faring in the great scheme of things; it isn't lost and its position in the queue becomes clear. This can aid communication and keep enthusiasm for the improvement process alive.
A little twist to this idea, that can really improve your team's engagement with continuous improvement, is the notion of a 'shelf life'. Let's imagine that you have a list of fifty ideas with the top seven being currently worked on. In our imaginary list, at position fourteen is a pretty good idea with reasonable benefits and is quick to implement. It hasn't reached the top yet because of its BCS score, and may well get leap frogged in due course. The person who suggested it can see it sitting there, and it may have been sitting there for a while. What if we chose to give the idea a shelf life, and when it hits this time you decide to do it now anyway? It keeps the list flowing, it keeps the benefits flowing and it communicates to the business that their ideas are important (all of them!).
The same can also be said of ideas that don't make the top of the list and are difficult to action like the example given above. Setting a minimum BCS score for inclusion on the list is a way to make it clear to the business about what you can handle via continuous improvement and what it cannot. This approach is no different to your contract review process, where you only accept the work that you can do and make a profit on. Again, having an entry level BCS score can improve the communication and transparency of your continuous improvement approach.
If your business is having a difficult time managing a plethora of improvement opportunities, and you are at risk of having people lose interest due to a perceived lack of progress, consider the BCS approach and see if you can re-vitalise continuous improvement at your place of work.