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Overview of Leading Continuous Process Improvement Tools
What is Continuous Improvement Process?
Continuous improvement process refers to the concept of having an ongoing effort to improve products, services or processes. To be successful, organizations need to employ continuous improvement methods in today's ever changing business environment. There are four commonly used tools for continuous improvements:
- The PDSA cycle
- Six Sigma
The PDSA Cycle
The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, Learning and Improvement cycle, Deming cycle or Shewhart cycle is a four-step problem-solving process. This method is a very powerful quality control tool that allows for continuous improvement of business processes in an ever changing environment. The use of this cycle permits organizations to anticipate the needs of customers, to create routines that transform those needs into products or services, to solve problems that emerged and to incorporate new information to existing products or services. The cycle should be utilized in an ongoing manner.
During the ‘Plan’ phase of the PDSA cycle, you recognize a problem or area for improvement and plan a change to the current process. To do this, you must establish the objectives and processes necessary in order to deliver your expected results. During the ‘Do’ phase, you implement the change and carry out a small-scale study to test possible effects. During the ‘Study’ or ‘Check’ phase, you review the test, analyze the results and identify what you’ve learned. This involves comparing the results from the ‘Do’ phase with the expected results established in the ‘Plan’ phase. During the ‘Act’ phase, you analyze the differences between the ‘Study’ / ‘Check’ phase and determine their cause. If the change did not include improvement, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If you were successful, incorporate what you learned from the test into wider changes. Use what you learned to plan new improvements, beginning the cycle again.
Six Sigma is essentially a data-driven way of quality improvement that promotes defect prevention rather than defect detection. This tool can be used anywhere variation and waste exist, and each employee needs be involved in the Six Sigma effort for it to be successful. Six Sigma projects follow a methodology inspired by the PDSA cycle mentioned above but Six Sigma calls it ‘define, measure, analyze, improve, control’ (DMAIC). The iterative principle of PDSA is not part of the DMAIC procedure and must be consciously added.
There are four different Six Sigma belts that a person can earn - yellow, green, black and master black. The most simple of all four belts is the yellow belt and it's the least popular one. Next comes the green belt - people with this certification are usually the ones involved in all the data gathering for a Six Sigma project. People who have a black belt Six Sigma certification are usually the ones who are in charge of Six Sigma efforts within departments or companies. A person with a master black belt certification is one that is highly skilled in Six Sigma and typically works on Six Sigma efforts full time, ensuring that there is continuous improvement of implemented Six Sigma projects.
The basic principle of lean is to eliminate all activities that don't add value and contribute waste to the business. There are seven commonly accepted wastes within a supply chain:
- Inappropriate processing
- Unnecessary inventory
- Unnecessary motion
Ideally, companies should apply the lean concept to the entire supply chain.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is a management tool with the end goal of customer satisfaction. TQM strives for excellence in all parts of the company, down to the final product for the customer. First of all, it's necessary to understand customers' needs. Next there need to be processes in place that continuously collect, analyze, and act on customer information. And involves the employees in continually improving all aspects of the company.