Certainty Blog

The Four Phases of Continuous Improvement Assessment — and What They Mean for Your Business

There’s always room for improvement. That’s the idea behind continuous improvement assessment frameworks, which can help organizations identify opportunities for improvement and take effective action. This is a key priority for manufacturing organizations, which continue to experience post-pandemic supply chain challenges — as noted by Bloomberg, the average lead time for materials reached a record-breaking 96 days in November 2021. The result? Companies can no longer be certain when — or if — material shipments will arrive. Continuous improvement assessments can help ensure that organizations are prepared to make the most of what they have, when they have it, to meet both customer and stakeholder expectations.

Why Does Continuous Improvement Matter?

Continuous improvement matters as an acknowledgment that there is no “perfect” state: Business processes can always be enhanced to reduce waste, improve efficiency, or minimize the risk of defects. Continuous improvement is also critical as digital processes become the norm for manufacturing organizations. With digital operations rapidly evolving to include mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) enabled sensors and connections, the status quo provides success for shorter and shorter periods of time. To prepare for change and meet the challenge of digital transition head-on, businesses need continuous improvement. 

Continuous Improvement Assessment

What Does a Continuous Improvement Assessment Accomplish?

A continuous improvement assessment tool helps companies create a framework for ongoing success. By taking the time to assess current operations, pinpoint areas for improvement, and take directed action, manufacturers can make the most of the people and processes they have, while simultaneously identifying the need for additional staff or resources. Consider a production line station that has consistently met time and quality goals. While at first glance there may seem to be no need for improvement, a continuous assessment might identify a process or component that could be modified to improve output times and boost overall efficiency. 

The 4 Phases of Continuous Assessment

Continuous improvement assessment methodology leverages four key phases: Plan, do, check, and act, also called the PDCA cycle to help drive decision-making. The term “cycle” applies because there is no end-state in PCDA — once actions have been taken to improve a specific process the cycle starts again at the planning stage to identify new opportunities for improvement.

Let’s break down each phase in more detail:

  • Plan

The planning phase assesses current operations and looks for issues such as bottlenecks, safety challenges, employee morale, or management challenges. This provides a solid benchmark for ongoing improvement and allows teams to create a pilot plan to address specific concerns. 

  • Do

In the do phase, pilot programs and interventions are implemented at a small scale to determine if they are effective, while simultaneously minimizing the impact on other business operations.

  • Check

The check phase is about measurement: Determining if the changes made address the issue as described and if they have eliminated the root cause or merely a symptom of a larger problem.

  • Act

In the act phase, changes that have proven to be effective are implemented at a larger scale as action plans across all applicable teams or the entire organization. 

Methods for Effective Evaluation

How do you effectively implement continuous improvement assessment initiatives across your organization? Several common methods exist. One of the most popular is the Kaizen continuous improvement process which utilizes techniques such as Gemba walks to identify areas for long-term improvement. Other options include lean manufacturing, lean Six Sigma, and DMAIC, or “define, measure, analyze, improve and control”.

No matter which assessment process approach you choose, it’s worth laying a solid foundation. Start with purpose-built Gemba Walk checklists or ESG checklists to get a sense of where improvement efforts are working and where they need improvement, and then leverage robust reporting and documentation software to ensure consistent, comparable, and accurate performance metrics are available to relevant stakeholders in real time.

While assessment methods differ, assessment results are more straightforward: Companies define desired outcomes and then use on-site data collection to determine effective improvement actions. These may include educational programs for the staff or improvement plans that help address current management system challenges or address specific performance indicators that are negatively affecting strategic planning initiatives.

Ready to create a continuous improvement assessment plan that puts your company on the right track? Start with Certainty.