Business: Concepts of Continuous Improvement

Maintaining competitiveness in the world of business is very difficult. Organizations must be ready to ensure that they respond to changes in their respective sectors in a timely and effective manner through gradual and continuous changes. The concept of continuous improvement provides an important guideline through which organizations can implement the changes in response to changes in their industries to remain competitive. There continuous improvement (CI) is closely tied to quality improvement since it indicates the initiatives that allow an organization to consistently improve its activities or services. This research paper highlights important concepts of continuous improvement in organizations. It identifies the key success factors that organizations should implement to ensure the success of the CI. Some of these success factors include change management, program coordination, and organizational culture among others. The study uses the literature review method to guide the discussion. Lastly, the recommendations that have been provided are important in guiding future studies in the area of continuous improvement.

Introduction

The world of business is rapidly changing. Companies must focus on the speed of service delivery, customer value, and efficiency in their respective areas of business, regardless of the industry or sector. The globalization of the world’s economy means that competition is global and that only by improvement of processes and activities that companies can consistently deliver value to customers to remain relevant and competitive. Competition in the business environment comes from different angles (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 498). These areas of competition may include the introduction of new products by competitors, reduction of prices of products and services by competitors, adoption of new technologies, which give competitors an upper hand in terms of quality and product cots, and being keen on the economies of scale from international competitors. To ensure that an organization remains relevant and competitive, it is critical to put in place proactive measures that will guarantee responsiveness to competition in the industry. Thus, the long-term health and competitiveness of an organization are dependent on its commitment to continuous improvement. When an organization is focused on continuous improvement, it becomes easier to respond to the rapidly changing customer demands and expectations, thus remaining competitive.

The continuous improvement comprises techniques, practices, and principles that form an elaborate organizational philosophy that aims at fulfilling customer needs satisfactorily and effectively (Brajer-Marczak 89). Since continuous improvement indicates the effort to discover new ways and concepts that have not been previously, CI is a knowledge-based technique in an organization. In other words, to ensure successful continuous improvement in an organization, it is important to invest in learning and knowledge acquisition that will promote the generation of new ideas. However, the generation of ideas does not necessarily lead to the adoption of new approaches to doing business. Such ideas must be tested, improved, and only implemented if they are likely to lead to a positive change in an organization (Singh and Singh 77). Continuous improvement is linked to quality improvement. In this case, the continuous improvement process entails the daily activities that are put in place to not only improve the quality of services offered to customers but also the superiority of products that an organization offers (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 497). Therefore, the organizations must carry out internal audits and checks, consider customer and employee feedback, and align them with available resources to ensure that the quality of products and services can meet customer demands and remain competitive in the business world.

Since continuous improvement may result in gradual or drastic changes in the way an organization runs its activities, it requires the support of the top management. While employees may make small changes in the way they handle their tasks, some of the activities such as the adoption of new technologies, allocation of resources towards training and learning on continuous improvement, and the actual improvement on quality areas requires the support and ownership of the top management (Singh and Singh 76). Therefore, it is for this reason that continuous improvement activities need to have the support of all individuals in the organization. The involvement of the top management not only ensures that the required resources are available but also helps in motivating change, which paves a way for continuous improvement to be made successfully. Many concepts have been put in place to discuss how organizations can implement and ensure the success of continuous improvement. This application shows the significance of the concept in the business world.

Methodology

In the business environment, continuous improvement is a very important technique that has attracted much interest from scholars and business experts. As such, many studies have been put forward to explain the concept of continuous improvement. These studies address different areas of the process. However, they are all important in building knowledge on the topic. For this reason, this research will be a meta-analysis study. In this case, the paper will use the existing literature to analyze and identify important concepts that have been put forward to guide the knowledge in continuous improvement. From the literature methodology, important recommendations will be made to guide future knowledge on the subject.

Body of the Study

This section represents an analysis of the existing literature on continuous improvement. The analysis of previous studies will provide an elaborate discussion on various tenets of CI, which is a very critical area in organizational management in the present business world. From the analysis of the literature, important gaps will be identified. Such gaps will be central in the tailoring of recommendations for future studies in the area.

Defining Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement (CI) has evolved over the years since the 1950s. During that time, some of the major proponents of the concept such as Deming, Juran, Ishikawa, and other theorists and advocates of continuous improvement were gaining popularity, especially in Japan, where the country was grappling with problems and reputation of poor quality of its products (Meyer-Looze 29). However, despite the significant interest that CI has attracted, its concepts are not well understood. Hence, many organizations fail to achieve the intended results when they implement CI activities in their operations.

The complexity of continuous improvement has led to various definitions of the concept. These definitions are very important in helping organizations to understand what they are doing together with the goals of such activities towards continuous improvement. For instance, Urbaniak views continuous improvement as a gradual and never-ending change of an organization (42). In this case, the author defines CI as a process or effort that is focused on the gradual increase in effectiveness and efficiency of an organization to meet the requirements of its policy and business objectives (Urbaniak 42). However, CI is not limited to quality activities. Instead, the concept is an elaborate approach that is concerned about business strategies, customers, business outcomes, and employee and supplier relationships among other areas of organizational management.

Another definition by Brajer-Marczak presents continuous improvement as a culture of sustained improvement, which targets the reduction or elimination of waste in all activities, processes, and systems in an organization (88). The process is not necessarily capital-intensive but requires the dedication of all members of an organization to achieve the necessary and aspired improvements for the business.

The above definitions show that continuous improvement is not about expensive projects or specific tools, but rather a dedication to the improvement of an organization’s process even in the smallest ways (Urbaniak 41). In essence, the definition narrows down to a simple fact about continuous improvement. As such, continuous improvement is all about improving organizational performance.

Other definitions are not business-focused as the ones provided above. For instance, Vipperman defines continuous improvement as a planned, organized, systematic, and deliberate ongoing process of incremental and organization-wide change of the existing processes and concepts that lead to improvement of a company’s performance (10). This definition implies that continuous improvement is a well-coordinated process, as opposed to a top-down procedure that many definitions support. Further, it implies that all employees can suggest and implement improvements in a company, regardless of their rank in the organization.

On the other hand, Formento views continuous improvement as a process that indicates the ability of an organization to beat the competition through innovation and the engagement of employees (393). In this definition, it is important to note that the emphasis on the inclusion of employees is central to successful continuous improvement initiatives in an organization. Lastly, Ibrahim defines CI as involving customer focus (459). In this case, organizations can only achieve improvement if they continually evaluate initiatives of better customer care, satisfaction, and use the outcomes of the evaluation activities to determine the next actions that will guarantee the sustainability of the change processes.

The definitions provided above show three important tenets that constitute the definition of continuous improvement in an organization. In this case, CI is an organizational process that requires the engagement and involvement of all members of an organization to work together to support initiatives of the ongoing improvement of activities and processes, which aim at reducing systematic and management errors to improve the overall performance for better organizational outcomes.

Key Factors for Success of Continuous Improvement

The process of continuous improvement is very critical to any organization, regardless of the sector or size. In the fast-changing world that is driven by globalization, any organization or business that does not dedicate its efforts to remaining competitive through the ongoing improvement processes risks becoming redundant. However, the worst that can happen is the complete phasing out of the relevance of a business or organization, which ultimately may lead to crumpling and closure of its activities. However, despite the knowledge on the emphasis of continuous improvement, the implementation of the CI processes is the most difficult part. Although many organizations recognize the importance of CI in their activities, many of them fail in the implementation of continuous improvement programs. The failure arises from faulty resource allocation or poor identification of critical areas of improvement. Further, other organizations fail due to the lack of dedication and commitment, as well as lack of expertise in the best way of managing the CI processes.

According to Urbaniak, the success of CI activities is a measure of the performance of an organization’s activities (43). In this case, since performance is centrally tied to CI, organizations must focus on increasing predictability, execution of activities, process control, and ensuring accountability. CI implies a shift from selling what an organization can produce to the production of what can meet clients’ needs. Various tools have been put forward to guide the CI process. Some of the popular tools of CIT are Lean and Six Sigma, which guides the control of quality in organizations. However, the implementation of these tools towards continuous improvement is the major concern for most organizations (Formento 392). Numerous uncertainties or ambiguities often lead the management of the organization to be frustrated with the CI process. Such frustrations are majorly to blame for the abandoning of many CI initiatives at the beginning or during and after the implementation of such programs. As Brajer-Marczak points out, many organizations only achieve immediate fruits or short-term benefits while failing to achieve lasting fruits (91). This situation attracts the issue of the sustainability of CI initiatives. It is for this reason that many studies are focusing on the reasons why organizations often abandon potentially beneficial and high-yielding improvement programs.

Considerable research has been undertaken on the success and failures of continuous improvement programs in companies. Further, increasing research has focused on the presentation of the major issues that can explain the sustainability failure of CI initiatives. According to Formento, four issues are majorly to blame concerning why organizations have a high failure rate for the improvement initiatives (393). These failures are important in explaining the lack of sustainability of many improvement initiatives. The first issue is the lack of executive leadership. Accordingly, many top-level managers fail to show commitment to CI programs. Consequently, this situation sets the path of failure from the start. In this case, top management officials delegate the activities of CI to the middle-level managers, thus reducing the credibility of the whole process in the organization. The second reason why the programs are not successful is the failure to deploy the appropriate strategies. Formento asserts that the management departments of many organizations do not put more effort after the initial deployment of CI activities (394). Worse, some CI initiatives never go beyond the training step. Further, no mechanisms are put in place to keep the process ongoing once the initial positive outcomes are achieved. The third important reason for the failure of CI is the tendency of organizations to seek shortcuts (Formento 396). In this process, the management of some organizations often ignores some processes that have been suggested for their CI processes. Further, others try to duplicate CI initiatives, thus failing to tailor the activities to the requirements of the organization. Other organizations do not adapt to new CI initiatives. As a result, they implement obsolete concepts and processes that fail. Lastly, inadequate measurement is another problem that organizations fail in their quest for improvement in their processes (Formento 396). In this case, it is important to note that the implementation of improvement activities requires an understanding of the status or position of an organization in terms of the efficiency of its services and activities and the outcomes for the customers. As such, it is imperative to ensure that an organization has the accurate measurement of its process to set realistic goals and process outcome expectations, which will ultimately lead to the overall improvement of the organization. Many organizations are successful in measuring internal processes. However, they fail in measuring customer satisfaction, which is the major goal of the improvement initiative in many organizations.

For the success of CI initiatives, several key factors must be considered at all times by organizations, regardless of their size and business focus. The following is an analysis of the major areas for consideration by organizations in the implementation of improvement of quality programs.

Integration of Customer in CI Design Process

The success of an organization is dependent on the ability to attract, satisfy, and maintain customers. Each organization has its customers who demand satisfaction from the services or products that they obtain from it. Failure by businesses to satisfy their customers is a major risk of disappointment for such organizations. As such, to ensure the success of continuous improvement initiatives, organizations need to have the best interest of the customer. Despite the recognition of the centrality of the customer in CI initiatives, it is unfortunate that many organizations fail to consider them when designing improvement activities.

The first major reason why organizations fail is their adoption of CI initiatives that were successful in other organizations without tailoring them to the unique conditions and demands of their customers. It is worth noting that even businesses that operate in the same business lines or produce the same products have unique factors that their customers identify with. As such, duplicating improvement efforts from other organizations is a step to failure by an organization.

For the success of improvement initiatives, it is critical to understand and consider the demands of customers. These demands guide the introduction of new products or changes in the existing products that are tailored to meet the unique requirements of an organization’s customers. The customer demands want, and desires are translated into input points for the design process of the improvement programs. According to Robinson and Schroeder, customers are the focus of quality improvement initiatives (19). Thus, ignoring their input or desires increases the possibility of failure of continuous improvement activities.

There is an advantage of considering customer demands and specifications at the start of the planning phase in the CI process. It is easier to influence costs and processes at the beginning of a product cycle. As such, in addition to increasing the possibility of success for improvement initiatives, customer consideration is also a cost-saving advantage that organizations gain (Urbaniak 46). If an organization ignores the input of customers, it not only risks failing to achieve improvement but also losing money in redesigning or restarting improvement initiatives. Involving and considering the customer is not a one-time activity. Instead, the movie is an ongoing process that ensures that an organization can track the success of its activities while at the same time tracking changes in customer preferences. The strategy leads to small but gradual changes that can guarantee the relevance of the activities of an organization to its customers (Vipperman 10). Therefore, it is important to have measures that will ensure that the customer demands and preferences can be adopted early in advance in the continuous improvement initiatives, which will lead to more success in an organization.

Change Management

One of the most important tenets of continuous improvement is change management. CI indicates the ability of an organization to change consistently while adopting new concepts and approaches to doing business. The current business environment has become very competitive. Only businesses and organizations that can successfully adapt to the competition will remain operational (Ibrahim 459). The concept of change and its centrality in the sustainability of organizations is reflected in Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest where he noted that only the species that can adapt to change increase their chances of survival. As such, since the world of business is fast changing, incorporating change management is of great importance.

Many concepts and approaches to change management have been suggested for the successful implementation of change in organizations. These approaches and concepts can be tailored to guarantee the successful implementation of continuous improvement programs (Meyer-Looze 31). For instance, the organizational change model, which provides Kotler’s eight steps of change is a very important guide that organizations can follow in ensuring successful continuous improvement.

The first step towards ensuring successful implementation of continuous improvement programs relates well with the first stage of change management, which is the creation of urgency. Creating urgency in an organization is a major step in creating the initial motivation for the need for change (Ibrahim 461). In this case, an organization should be at the forefront in identifying threats from the competition and projecting future trends that will give an organization the initial motivation on the urgency and importance of change and consequently improvement.

The second important step towards successful change management is the formation of a powerful coalition of influential people in the organization to support and believe in the need for change. In other words, as previously noted, the success of the CI initiative is pegged on the support and goodwill of the top management (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 499). It is for this reason that the process of change to a culture of continuous improvement must start from the top management that can consequently lead to organization-wide support and dedication to the process of improvement.

The third most important phase is the establishment of goals and a vision for the need for change towards continuous improvement. In this case, all stakeholders of an organization must be brought on board to a position where they understand the objective of the improvement initiatives that have been put in place. Many organizations fail to succeed in the implementation of CI initiatives since the goals and the vision of the activities are not shared or understood by stakeholders. ‘

To have a common vision is not enough. Instead, it is important to communicate the vision for change and continuous improvement to the stakeholders in the organization. As such, many organizations succeed in designing continuous improvement projects but fail in the implementation and sustainability of such initiatives. The reason for the sustainability and implementation malfunction can be linked to the failure by the organization to ensure motivation and thus continuity of the improvement initiatives. Indeed, many organizations fail to sustain the initial motivation after achieving the short-term goals. This situation exposes them to the risk of being pushed out of the market by competition. Consequently, communicating the vision for continuous improvement consistently leads to a culture of change and quality. This strategy is more sustainable and beneficial to an organization in the long term.

For the environment for change towards continuous improvement to occur, several barriers may hinder the process. For instance, some of the obstacles may relate to the lack of knowledge and skills that can guarantee effective adoption of change. In situations where continuous improvement initiatives require changes in technology and procedures of producing products and services, the organization needs to allocate adequate resources that can be used to bring the new technologies and processes (Meyer-Looze 30). Further, the management needs to dedicate resources to the training and development of staff members who are the fuel behind the success of continuous improvement initiatives. Many organizations often underestimate or delay the allocation of the required resources. Consequently, this laxity creates a major barrier to the success of CI initiatives. Another significant barrier to the adoption of continuous improvement initiatives is the resistance to change. According to Brajer-Marczak, many employees and even top management leaders would like to maintain the status quo. This case can bring the issue of resistance, which may derail otherwise good continuous improvement programs (86). It is for this reason that activities such as training, communication of vision, and the creation of objectives are important aspects that an organization must focus on to ensure the success of its improvement activities.

The other important tenet advocated by the organizational change model is the creation of short-term goals. In this case, focusing on constant long-term goals is a mistake since they may fail to bring the improvement that an organization desires. It is for this reason that organizations should put in place short-term goals for continuous improvement activities, which will guarantee the tracking of the outcomes of the initiatives throughout the process. The achievement of short-term goals not only offers important motivation to the staff members but also provides an opportunity for changes to be made early in the process wherever errors or new important changes are recommended to the company because of changes in the industry. The short-term goals provide momentum and support from the staff members. Consequently, this move leads to a higher probability of achieving the long-term goals of a continuous improvement culture.

In many organizations, the achievement of the intended change is the only goal. However, the failure to plan and put in place measures to sustain the change is one of the major failures shared by many organizations. For instance, according to Robinson and Schroeder, once organizations reach their initial of responding to a specific competition issue in the market, the momentum is lost (21). This loss of momentum for the change and sustenance of continuous improvement initiatives means that organizations are forced to start at the bottom each time they want to respond to new market threats. Therefore, the organization must create strategies and policies that will ensure that the momentum for consistent improvement and change is maintained. Such an approach will ensure that the organization has a competitive advantage over its competitors, thus ensuring the success of its activities in the long term.

Lastly, the most important tenet of the organizational change model is the anchoring of the changes and processes of continuous improvement and quality on the organizational culture (Urbaniak 47). In this case, once an organization manages to sustain the changes that it has already put in place, it is important to incorporate the changes into organizational culture gradually. Here, establishing a culture of quality and CI will be an important step that will guarantee that an organization is well prepared to succeed for competition and changes in its industry. To ensure that the changes towards continuous improvement are incorporated into the organizational culture, the changes must be emphasized through frequent training of staff members. Further, the management must often communicate and discuss the changes.

Performance Measurement

The success of a business is the central goal for all organizations. However, measuring success is a major area that has attracted considerable research. For a very long time, many businesses viewed performance measurement as a factor of only the input costs and the revenues obtained at the end of the production process. However, while profits are still a major measure of the success of a business, such an approach is very shallow since it considers inputs and outputs the end in themselves. The production cycle is made of very many steps and processes, which can provide additional areas of performance measurement, which can then lead to increased efficiency and higher profit margins for an organization (Vipperman 14). Despite the importance of performance measurement, organizations often fail in determining what to measure. Further, the measurement tools and approaches are often outdated or applied wrongly. Therefore, this case leads to faulty or wrong performance measurement outcomes for an organization.

The determination of the performance of an organization is very critical to informing the need for continuous improvement initiatives and creating benchmarks against which the success of the improvement activities can be measured. An elaborate and relevant performance measurement approach focuses on financial performance, innovation and learning, internal operations, and customer satisfaction. The financial performance focuses on the determination of the inputs and products costs, human resource costs, marketing costs, and logistics or sales costs. An organization needs to understand the current trends in the industry on the costs identified to ensure that its performance is cost-effective to warrant a competitive advantage. The internal operations relate to time management, inventory management, supply chain effectiveness, and other internal activities that support the production of goods and services that an organization offers. An organization must be ready to measure the effectiveness of its internal operations about competition, thus ensuring the determination of areas of improvement that will form part of the CI initiatives (Meyer-Looze 39). On the other hand, innovation and learning are very important tenets of an organization’s performance. In the highly competitive world, an organization needs to make sure that its employees are not only receiving the right training and learning but also bringing forth innovative ideas that can lead to higher success in the activities. Learning requires the identification of the availability and relevance of new knowledge that can be of significant help to organizations’ efforts of beating the competition. Therefore, the organizations must be willing to spend and dedicate resources to learning and innovation that will guide future success and competitiveness. Lastly, customer satisfaction is very critical to the performance measurement of an organization. In this case, organizations must be ready to continually seek and measure the satisfaction of their customers. Since organizations exist to serve customers, the satisfaction of the clients is very significant in ensuring the short-term and long-term success of an organization (Urbaniak 45). The feedback of customers can easily lead to a review of all other organizational activities. Concisely, ensuring the successful improvement of an organization requires an understanding of the state of its core function through the adoption of relevant measurement approaches, which inform the improvement initiatives that can lead a company to sustainable success in the industry.

Organizational Culture

Ensuring the success of CI is a function of many factors as identified above. However, the success and sustainability of CI initiatives are highly dependent on the organizational culture. In CI, organizational culture indicates the shaping of norms and values that focus an organization on an ever-improving perspective. In this case, an organization that is dedicated to change management upholds the culture that can facilitate continuous improvement. Organizational culture is a function of the personalities of the individuals in the top management (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 503). The personality type of the top leadership has a strong bearing on whether an organization is reactive or proactive to quality improvement and change management.

The organization’s culture should start with the top management. If the top management of an organization is not consistent, then the continuous improvement initiatives are futile. Therefore, the top management needs to show leadership towards the adoption of a continuous improvement of quality culture. Such commitment will ensure the availability of resources and motivation towards the success and sustainability of improvement initiatives.

To ensure the success of an organization’s improvement initiatives, projects need to be pegged on goals, which will guide resource allocation and performance. Further, a culture that upholds effective communication and accountability guarantees even more success for continuous improvement initiatives. The successful setting of goals is based on four important concepts, which involve different thinking, challenging the existing practices, building the right team, and creating the right environment (Singh and Singh 82). In other words, since continuous improvement refers to the adoption of new approaches and concepts that have never been tried before by an organization, it is important to think differently and outside the confines of what the organization does in the present. The organization must encourage the suggestion of new ideas and approaches, which have not been previously considered. Secondly, it requires the organization to challenge its existing practices. Indeed, this step is the most difficult part of the process of goal setting and quality improvement initiatives. In this case, many organizations are not willing to move out of their comfort zone. Thus, they are more inclined to be hesitant in considering and implementing new practices. However, the ability to challenge the existing practices is a major concept that separates an organization’s success from others in its industry (Robinson and Schroeder 22). A good organizational culture challenges and motivates stakeholders to question whether the current approaches give the best value to the company or whether other new or existing concepts can be better. With such a culture, an organization is likely to have more than one option on the way it will handle competition and remain relevant in its industry. Thirdly, organizational culture must focus on honesty and merit. In this case, it is self-defeating to put a wrong team in terms of expertise and qualifications to be in charge of continuous improvement initiatives in an organization. As such, successful organizations always focus on putting in place the right individuals to champion the adoption of changes that provide the best opportunity for the victory of improvement initiatives (Ibrahim 460). Lastly, the creation of the right environment is a vital concept in organizational culture. The right environment includes the availability of resources, equal and fair treatment for all, support of innovativeness, and support of employees through training and learning programs. Such an environment allows individuals to provide ideas without the fear of discrimination. Consequently, the involvement leads to a better chance for the achievement of continuous improvement and quality culture in an organization.

Program Coordination

Just like other activities of an organization, coordination is very important for the success of continuous improvement initiatives. In this case, apart from the top leadership in an organization, it is important to guarantee proper channels of timely and effective communication between various stakeholders who are vital for the success of the programs (Meyer-Looze 41). For instance, an organization needs to put leaders and individuals who will coordinate timely communication of decisions, allocation of resources, and the provision of progress reports to ensure that the project can run smoothly. In situations where there is the need for adopting new technologies or machines in production companies or otherwise, it is important to uphold good coordination for stakeholders to work within the schedule to avoid unnecessary delays or quality issues, which may jeopardize the success of the company (Formento 401). Such coordination is also very important in ensuring that organizations can react in a timely and effective manner in making changes to plan on the continuous improvement activities wherever the need arises. It is for the reasons above that it is important to have good program coordination to ensure the intended goals of the initiative are achieved.

Communication of Results, Recognition, and Incentives

One of the most important areas of continuous improvement where organizations fail is the lack of recognition and communicating results and incentives for employees to celebrate the small successes that are achieved in the journey to a culture of continuous and quality improvement. Changing an organization is a process that requires the inclusion of all stakeholders and a high level of transparency. Many organizations often start with very high motivation and publicity on the need for change to continuous improvement. However, soon after the initial motivation, no communication is made to other stakeholders by the top management. In this case, the discussion on the continuous improvement returns to the confines of the closed doors of the board meeting. Employees who are very critical to the process are left out in the dark, hence the failure of the initiatives (Brajer-Marczak 93). Such an approach can only lead to the malfunction of the CI initiatives and hence the reason why organizations need to uphold communication to all stakeholders, regardless of their position or role within the organization.

Effective communication ensures ownership of the initiatives by all stakeholders. When employees and other stakeholders understand the position of their organization on an issue, they are likely to be motivated and supported in their engagements. Further, open communication is beneficial to the organization since it allows observations and ideas to flow. This atmosphere can greatly increase the odds of success. Effective communication ensures that an organization can celebrate success with its people (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 506). In times of failure, it can recollect itself and map a new way of managing CI. It is for this reason that an organization must ensure that it communicates the results of continuous improvement activities at all times to its stakeholders.

The success of continuous improvement initiatives means that an organization can stay competitive in its market. As such, the achievement of a continuous improvement and quality culture is a major milestone for any organization. Therefore, organizations need to recognize and reward people, partners, and stakeholders that have been critical to the process (Singh and Singh 85). For instance, providing employees with salary increments or one-time bonuses is an important way of showing appreciation by an organization. Other ways of recognizing and rewarding success are through the promotion of individuals, as well as supporting career development activities. Such activities may include in-house training or scholarships for employees.

The key success factors of continuous improvement are summarized by the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle or Shewart Cycle. The four-step quality model points out four important points and guidelines that dictate the implementation of quality improvement initiatives (Singh and Singh 86).

Source: (Singh and Singh 86)
Source: (Singh and Singh 86)

The first step is ‘Plan’. In this process, organizations need to identify the need and the necessity for change and proactively plan it by dedicating resources and personnel to the initiatives. The second step of the continuous improvement process is Do. In this stage, organizations are encouraged to implement change on a small-scale basis. The third stage in the Deming Cycle is the Check step (Singh and Singh 86). In this step, organizations are required to use data to analyze the progress of the initiatives to ensure that they bring the required changes. Lastly, Act is the final step of the Deming Cycle. In this step, if the small-scale initiatives are successful, an organization is required to implement them on a large-scale basis ((Singh and Singh 87). Further, it is important to analyze the results to continue to guarantee consistency and relevance of the continuous improvement activities. If the anticipated changes are not successful, then an organization should restart the cycle.

Relevance of Continuous Improvement in Today’s Business

Continuous improvement is a very critical tenet of today’s world. In the fast-changing technological business environment, industries must be ready to adapt and respond to various threats to their businesses. The only way to win the competition and remain relevant in the market is by improving a proactive, rather than a reactive process in an organization. It is for this reason that continuous improvement plays a relevant and critical role in the success of any organization in today’s business.

Firstly, continuous improvement is relevant because it allows organizations to respond to change. The demands for change come from different areas of the business environment. For instance, technological changes in the world mean that new, better processes and tools are emerging and that any business, which remains with the old technologies, is likely to be driven out of the market by competitors who adopt new technologies and processes (Brajer-Marczak 94). The new technologies mean that organizations can produce goods and services faster, efficiently, and sufficiently within a short time. Further, the new technologies are often better in terms of cost-effectiveness, hence ensuring bigger profit margins for companies (Meyer-Looze 32). Consequently, continuous improvement allows an organization to proactively identify and adopt new technologies for doing business, hence giving the industry a competitive advantage.

Change is not just a factor of technological changes but also the changing preferences and demands of customers. In this case, customers may demand better quality of products or services. Organizations need to respond fast to ensure that customers get what they want (Singh and Singh 86). If an organization cannot respond to the demands of its customers, then it becomes very easy to lose customers to competitors. The goal of an organization should involve attracting and maintaining customers. Consequently, an organization should be ready to invest resources in ensuring that customers are satisfied at all times.

Organizations should focus on continuous improvement because of cost-cutting reasons. The increased competition means that even with the adoption of new technologies and processes that lead to efficiency in the production of goods and services, there is the need for organizations to check their internal process to identify areas where they can reduce unsustainable costs. For instance, organizations must ensure that their internal activities such as human resources, production, inventory management, and supply chain are cost-effective. Without reducing the costs incurred in an organization, issues such as the increased production or improved quality in response to market demands are not likely to result in the optimum benefits to the organization (Formento 412). As such, the implementation of continuous improvement programs ensures that an organization can continuously look for and identify cost-cutting areas that can be adapted to yield a competitive advantage in terms of the bottom line as compared to the competitors. Further, it ensures that the cost-cutting measures already in place are gradually checked to guarantee new improvements wherever they arise (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 501). Such an approach allows an organization to be aware that whatever is relevant today might be obsolete tomorrow. Consequently, the implementation of a single cost-cutting measure does not allow the company to enter into a comfort zone. Instead, it ensures continued identification of new approaches that can lead to appealing cost-cutting results.

One of the most important goals of any organization is to remain relevant and profitable in its activities even during times of steep competition. An organization can remain competitive through three important ways, which include diversification, moving with the market trends, and innovation. In the first approach, an organization can diversify to many areas to spread the risk of depending on one product or service line (Brajer-Marczak 91). Such an approach ensures that if one area of business fails, then the other activities can still support the organization to remain afloat. In the second approach, organizations can remain relevant by moving with the tide. In this case, the organizations are actively looking for new developments and approaches to business as guided by market trends concerning their businesses. Such an approach means that an organization will remain relevant by ensuring that its activities reflect the market changes.

The most important way of remaining relevant and gaining competitive advantages is through innovation. In this approach, an organization is not only a market player but also a trendsetter. When organizations are innovative, they can put in place processes and concepts that are unique to them. Innovativeness is a culture that requires the establishment of continuous improvement and quality background where employees and other stakeholders are encouraged to bring onboard new ideas and innovations that will result in the improvement of a company’s processes (Brajer-Marczak 101).

The last important reason why continuous improvement is relevant in the current world is the need for brand identity and loyalty (Formento 408). Companies that achieve brand loyalty and identity are more likely to be more successful than those that lack such qualities. However, building brand loyalty and identity requires enormous dedication to quality and marketing strategies that will put a company’s presence in the market. Brand loyalty and identity can be achieved through many areas such as the quality of products and services, innovativeness, customer care, and pricing (Singh and Singh 104). In this case, an organization needs to aspire to achieve brand loyalty and identity through its products and services. Since brand loyalty and identity are built over time, businesses need to be consistent in their values and dedication to the requirements of customers. As such, continuous improvement provides an important approach through which an organization can guarantee the consistency and reliability of its services and products. Through continuous improvement, an organization can identify and respond to changes in customer demands and preferences such as efficiency and quality of products. Further, it can ensure customer engagement through consumer feedback and surveys, which ensure that customers can always identify with the brand of an organization (Singh and Singh 106). Such efforts gradually lead to brand loyalty and identity, which competitors find difficult to defeat in the market. Therefore, organizations should put in place improvement measures, which will guarantee the development of brand loyalty and identify the ones that provide a competitive advantage in the market. Succinctly, continuous improvement is an important and relevant concept in today’s business world. Organizations must strive to remain relevant and competitive by implementing structures and projects that support continuous improvement at times.

Who Should Use CI

Continuous improvement is an important process for both private and public organizations. Further, it is relevant to non-profit and for-profit organizations. The only difference is how the concept is implemented across organizations. In the production and manufacturing sectors, continuous improvement is a very vital process not only due to the competition in the industry but also due to the high levels of costs that are incurred in such industries (Brajer-Marczak 102). Manufacturing and production are very capital-intensive. It is in the best interest of the organizations to implement continuous improvement initiatives. In this case, organizations in the industry are focused on reducing the cost of production through technological advancement, which allows efficient and effective production processes. Further, the organizations are dedicated to improving the quality of their products in line with new technological advancements (Singh and Singh 113). Other areas of improvement include sales, marketing, and logistics, which take up a considerable amount of revenue from the organization. The production and manufacturing companies require elaborate supply chain and logistics plans, which guarantee the timely acquisition of raw materials and distribution of the finished products to the market. Organizations that have highly efficient and effective supply chain and logistics and distribution structures are in a better position to run their business more profitably and competitively (Formento 407). As such, it is through implementation and establishment of a continuous improvement culture that organizations can remain competitive in the production and manufacturing industries.

The other area where continuous improvement can be implemented is in service-based organizations. In these organizations, the focus is on the provision of professional and intangible products that their clients demand. The service industries are very competitive due to the ease of entry by new competitors. In this case, the most important tool of competition is customer service and care. To survive in this sector, organizations must remain in touch with their customers by understanding their demands, preferences, and expectations. Continuous improvement initiatives are based on an understanding of the customer and providing services with more benefit than competitors. To realize successful continuous improvement initiatives, organizations in this sector must obtain customer feedback and views on service qualities and relevance (Singh and Singh 111). Such feedback allows new quality improvements measures to be considerate of the customer demands.

Public sector organizations also require continuous improvement programs in their management. While public sector organizations are not-for-profit, they undertake activities that have far-reaching implications for a nation and the people they serve. The recent global recession of 2007/2008 also put nations into difficult challenges that highlighted the importance of an effective and efficient public sector (Formento 406). Firstly, it is worth noting that the public sector often undertakes capital-intensive projects whose failure can result in large financial losses in the economy. In this case, the adoption of continuous improvement provides these organizations with an opportunity to make gradual and low-investment progress that ensures accountability. Further, it allows the organizations to evaluate the success of projects before they can be expanded in full-scale levels (Singh and Singh 116). Further, the adoption of CI in public organizations ensures increased commitment and accountability. In many instances, public sector organizations fail to achieve their mandates because of a lack of accountability and ownership of programs. Implementing continuous improvement initiatives increases the probability of success for such programs since the teams in charge are more likely to be committed to the successful completion of the projects (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 501). The implementation of continuous improvement initiatives in public sector organizations can also lead to a reduction of waste and costs that are common in the sector. Concisely, to ensure better outcomes for public sector organizations to the citizens, the implementation of continuous improvement is very important.

Lastly, non-governmental organizations also require continuous improvement in their activities. As the name suggests, these organizations are not affiliated with governments. They provide services such as relief aid, protection of human rights, and influencing policy through lobbying among other services that governments and business sectors do not cover (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas 501). However, non-governmental organizations are not engaged in profitable activities. They depend on donor funds and grants to support their activities. As such, their activities are bound by resource constraints, which require careful planning to reduce waste as much as possible. Further, the success of activities of the non-governmental organizations is highly dependent on the impact that such projects have on the people targeted. To ensure the success of subsequent projects, the organization must put in place continuous improvement programs, which will help in the identification of areas of improvement that can make future projects more effective (Formento 396). In addition, such CI initiatives are very important in ensuring accountability of the organizations to their donors and the beneficiaries of the assistance that they provide. Succinctly, regardless of the industry, continuous improvement is an important process that ensures that organizations develop a culture of quality where they can consistently meet the demands of the stakeholders.

Conclusion/Recommendations

The implementation and success of continuous improvement programs are very important in the current business work for all organizations. However, despite the recognition of the importance of the concepts, there is a high failure rate among organizations that implement such programs. To avoid failures, organizations need to follow the success factors that have been highlighted. For instance, it is very important to integrate the customer into the CI process. Such a process ensures the demands, preferences, and expectations of the customers are incorporated into the design process from the beginning. Further, it is imperative to improve and embrace change management, which ensures that an organization can support the changes that the CI may bring. The organizational culture is also very important in setting the environment upon which successful change can be undertaken. A good organizational culture requires the support of the top management on the importance of CI. Such support ensures motivation among employees and dedication of resources to improvement activities. Another important area of consideration in the success of CI programs is performance measurement. In this case, organizations must be focused on implementing performance measurement initiatives that can guarantee accurate measurement of the various performance indicators. Accurate measurements ensure that an organization can understand its position in the market, thus implementing improvement activities, which can give it a competitive advantage in the industry. Organizations must ensure that the most qualified individuals form the teams that are mandated with the coordination of the improvement initiatives. Ensuring that all members of the organizations are on the same page in terms of the implementation of the CI initiatives is very important. This goal can be realized through open communication, employee recognition, and incentives for staff members. CI is very relevant to organizations since it allows the adoption of better processes and technologies that guarantee competitiveness. For this reason, the concept applies to all organizations, regardless of the sector. From the discussion above, the following recommendations are very important:

  • There is the need for more support from the top management to address the importance of continuous improvement in their organizations
  • There is the need for future research to focus on ways that small and start-up organizations with fewer resources can successfully implement CI initiatives
  • Further, there is the need for more research to be undertaken to study how organizations can sustain CI initiatives during management transition periods.

References

Brajer-Marczak, Renata. “Employee Engagement in Continuous Improvement of Processes.” Management (1429-9321) 18.2 (2014): 88-103. Print.

Formento, Hector Ricardo. “Key Factors for a Continuous Improvement Process.” Independent Journal of Management & Production 4.2 (2013): 391-415. Print.

Fryer, Karen, Jiju Antony, and Alex Douglas. “Critical Success Factors of Continuous Improvement in the Public Sector: A Literature Review and Some Key Findings.” The TQM Magazine 19.5 (2007): 497-517. Print.

Ibrahim, Ola. “Total Quality Management (TQM) and Continuous Improvement as Addressed by Researchers.” International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications 3.10 (2013): 458-462. Print.

Meyer-Looze, Catherine. “Creating a Cycle of Continuous Improvement through Instructional Rounds.” International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation 10.1 (2015): 29-45. Print.

Robinson, Alan, and Dean Schroeder. “Employee Engagement That Works.” Journal of Government Financial Management 64.3 (2015): 18-23. Print.

Singh, Jagdeep, and Harwinder Singh. “Continuous Improvement Philosophy – Literature Review and Directions.” Benchmarking: An International Journal 22.1 (2015): 75-119. Print.

Urbaniak, Maciej. “The Role of the Continuous Improvement Tools of Processes in Building Relationships in Supply Chain.” Log forum 11.1 (2015): 41-50. Print.

Vipperman, William. “Lost Leaders: The Missing Keys of Continuous Improvement.” Industrial Management 57.4 (2015): 10-15. Print.