A brand spanking new year will inevitably bring new challenges, but it should also bring a new outlook. When members of your organisation are feeling rejuvenated and relaxed, it’s the time to examine how you can be doing things better. One way to adopt an ongoing culture of innovation is through the theory of continuous improvement, or Kaizen. Spearheaded by organisational theorist Masaaki Imai, Kaizen is a way of incrementally improving personnel issues, systems and processes. Ultimate optimisation is balanced by looking at how you can reduce waste without compromising the quality of the process, or product.
Interestingly one commentator notes that while Kaizen has been a very important aspect in manufacturing operations, IT departments have tended to have less success with it. He puts this down to a wider-organisation’s culture problem, stating:
‘While there are certainly plenty of opportunities to improve IT service delivery, CIOs face the obstacles of shrinking budgets, decreased headcounts, and constantly increasing complexity as they try to meet enterprise technology needs. As a result, corporate IT departments are forced to spend 70-80% of their time just “keeping the lights on”’
And it is true that for Kaizen to be truly effective, the culture of an entire organisation must strive for improvement, it must be a place where every employee asks: how can I be better? Even so, the whole point of continuous improvement is that change doesn’t have to be all-encompassing. The idea is that small improvements every day will eventually have a significant impact over time. And given that data analytics are giving departments more sophisticated and specific insights, understanding your business (and what exactly needs to be improved) has never been easier. So what’s involved in continuous improvement and how can CIOs cultivate its successful adoption?
Kaizen essentially functions at two levels. On one level, it’s simply a managerial style where you are getting input from your team and from your customers about what could be better, which is looked at through the lense of wider organisational aims. On another level it’s a paradigm that pertains to your department and your business. It’s also important to note that Kaizen is not a ‘top-down imperative’ rather it’s about training your team to go through the process organically. The theory is that if you empower your team to be proactive in looking for improvements and initiating change, then they will be more likely to embrace bigger changes, rather than fear them, or resent them.
The cycle of Kaizen
Kaizen is seen as a cycle rather than a process, as demonstrated in this representation:
These improvements are starting to be driven by data. A report release by Google Analytics frames it in the following way:
What is the best way to capture the relevant data we need to test our hypothesis?
Is this data collated in a format that the relevant stakeholders can interpret?
What patterns are emerging from the data?
Are there larger emerging trends?
Do you need to aggregate the data into smaller sets?
Has the data proved or disproved your initial hypothesis?
Establish the possible actions that can be taken to improve the findings
Use A/B testing to find best solution
Implement best outcome
Measure its performance
Using Kaizen in IT
IT World Canada make the point that the work of IT inherently embraces Kaizen because introducing technology creates optimisation, ‘Technology – by reducing manual work, improving communication and monitoring business activity – can be a change for the good in itself.’ However, the author also stresses that it’s not enough to merely invest in a new system or product and leave it at that, because the disruption that this change inevitably causes requires ‘a spirit of continuous improvement.’
However, as mentioned earlier there is a real nexus between wanting a great ROI on a technology investment and having the ongoing resources to see it through. There can also be an issue with a lack of leadership focus. It’s not enough to excitedly jump on the band-wagon if leadership teams aren’t truly committed to change. The theory of continuous improvement needs a long-term strategy to implement continuous improvement practices in every corner of the business. Part of this commitment relies on companies working to break down departmental silos that inhibit cooperation.
Data helps in this process, it lets businesses work from a single source of truth that identifies the parts of the operations that need the most attention. Instead of leading to a ‘blame culture’ this approach allows departments to become outcome focused, sharing responsibility to seek out the problem and work together to overcome it. If teams aren’t dedicated to adopting this approach fully, then they run the risk of making Kaizen another business buzzword, but if they implement it in the spirit of which it was created, then not only will your processes become more efficient, your staff will feel more engaged, your decision making more informed and you will be contributing to a more dynamic and agile working culture.
If you would like to know more about how data can deliver insights into your operations, then you should download the Big Data & Analytics 2017 @ CeBIT program today.