Continuous improvement refers to the act of constantly improving some or all aspects of a business to maintain a competitive edge. This is a central concept within the lean management philosophy. No business system will be perfectly implemented the first time, so there will always be a need to improve some aspects of the system. However, successfully integrating the practice of continuous improvement is easier said than done as changing systems often have many knock-on effects.
This article will describe how a combined CRM, Service and MRP system like Flowlens can help SME manufacturers effectively implement continuous improvement.
Form a cross-functional team
Continuous improvement is first and foremost a mindset. All stakeholders within the company must understand the need for it as well as actively participate not only in the implementation of improvement activities but also in identifying potential areas that can benefit from an improvement. A single person cannot be aware of all the potential pain points in a system. As such, a strong team requires people who understand the need, the current system pain points, and how changes can affect the system as a whole. An MRP system like Flowlens is very intuitive and easy to use, which allows the team to easily understand how all the processes interact, and the effects of changes can be directly observed.
‘We don’t have procedures on how to operate the system because it is very intuitive’
Gareth Black, technical director at Flint Subsea
Define the problem
When embarking on a continuous improvement activity, it is important to define the problem clearly. A poorly defined problem will result in poorly implemented improvements that can easily have unintended consequences. When defining the problem, it is helpful to use the 5-Whys principle which means asking why until the problem is condensed to its root cause. Flowlens can collect and display customised business performance metrics that can be used to identify problem areas. These metrics can be easily displayed on the Flowlens dashboard. Ray Dodd, GM at On-Systems describes the Flowlens dashboard as ‘the driving tool… and everybody is set up with this dashboard in the company’.
‘I could demonstrate corrective action where we had an issue’ Ray Dodd, GM at On-Systems
To build a robust culture of continuous improvement, it’s important to communicate successes to the workforce. This will help highlight the value of the process and inspire people to be on the lookout for other potential pain points that can benefit from a continuous improvement program. With an MRP system like Flowlens, it becomes much easier to communicate these successes as the effects of the changes can be directly observed either through the Flowlens dashboards or by observing how the changes made to a specific subprocess have created tangible benefits and improvements.
‘Keep showing the benefits all the time’ Ray Dodd, GM at On-Systems
When embarking on continuous improvement activities, the process must be adequately documented. What may seem like an improvement at the start can eventually end up causing unforeseen problems. This can occur as soon as the change is implemented or six months down the line. In such cases, if the change or improvement was not documented it can be difficult to reverse any changes as the original system and motivation for the improvement may be lost. An MRP system like Flowlens makes tracking these changes very simple.
For example, Ray Dodd, GM at On-Systems has used Flowlens to create and track continuous improvement projects. These projects have individual tasks listed that can be assigned to various stakeholders who are actively involved in the improvement process.
‘We’ve set up a business improvement project where we’ve assigned tasks against our three pillars of our improvement programme for the year’ Ray Dodd, GM at On-Systems
In addition to this, the data from Flowlens is used to drive monthly meetings ‘We meet monthly to get measures’ and ‘it helps drive continuous improvement’.
Perform incremental changes
It is important not to change too much at once during a continuous improvement drive. Incremental changes are easier to control and can also limit any unforeseen disruptions to day-to-day business operations. With an MRP system like Flowlens, the entire business life cycle is well defined and integrated into how the business operates. As such it’s simple to see the effect of changes in real-time. However, the long-term effect of a change is not always understood or anticipated, and as such incremental changes are recommended.
Integrating business management tools is a good way to ensure successful continuous improvement activities. In most cases, this would involve quality management documentation and data from spreadsheets or databases. However, an MRP system is by definition fully integrated into the business; indeed the Flowlens tools used in the various business processes are all centralised. This helps ensure a structured approach to continuous improvement activities.
‘Built-in processes that direct you naturally down that road you want your workforce to take’ Ray Dodd, GM at On-Systems
Using Flowlens to drive continuous improvement
Flowlens is a powerful and highly customisable CRM, Service and MRP solution that, among many other benefits, can help drive continuous improvement activities across your business process.
Even the most robust system needs to be continuously updated to account for market shifts, new technologies, and new processes. As such, it’s important to have a system that makes it easy to implement improvements with as little disruption to the day-to-day operation of a business.
To learn how Flowlens can help meet your unique continuous improvement requirements and help achieve tangible benefits, contact a Flowlens representative today.
Just like Gareth Black, technical director at Flint Subsea, you too can see real benefits to your bottom line:
‘We delivered a product from order to delivery in 7 ½ weeks, and a year ago that took 30 weeks’