Imagine if you had a silver bullet that helped you improve your business and keep one step ahead of your competition without spending a lot? In this post, I will teach you about a technique that can do this for you.
Continuous Improvement is the process of looking at all aspects of your business and looking for ways to make it better and making small changes on the basis of these reviews to improve it incrementally.
How to implement Continuous Improvement
- You need a clear way of measuring your current performance. Without a clear idea of it, there will be no way of knowing whether the changes you make are having any effect. From my experience measuring performance also as the knock-on benefit of focussing employees on how to improve performance.
- Listen to your customers, your customers can often be your harshest critic but also one of your greatest assets. They will often provide helpful (and sometimes unhelpful) suggestions on what you could do to make their lives a little bit easier or provide them with a better service.
- Designate a time on a weekly or monthly basis for a retrospective when the improvements and measurements can be discussed, this will help keep the process moving forward.
- Reward success; the process has to be encouraged from the ground up from the shop floor to the directors so that the whole business is moving together as a whole and people are not just focussed on improving one small thing.
- The key benefit of this process is that it will keep the business competitive and keep it moving forward. You may also inadvertently discover a small change which provides a big benefit.
- Make your company more agile and make it easier to respond to change.
- Will reduce inefficiencies, help reduce waste and keep costs down.
- Fosters teamwork and provides employees with a way of taking ownership and seeing their changes benefit the company.
- I think that every successful business has an aspect of continual improvement incorporated within it; you have to keep moving forward and be as competitive as possible
Kaizen is a popular Japanese framework to implement a type of continuous improvement. More information can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen
If you have a business you probably spend a lot of time thinking about how to gain an edge over your competitors. Gaining a competitive advantage over your rivals can be highly lucrative and help secure the future of your business.
In this post I will discuss some useful concepts around competitive advantage that have helped me find kick start new ideas in the past.
What is Competitive Advantage
As outlined in the diagram below, Michael Porter has a very popular theory in which he outlines three different approaches that can be used to gain competitive advantage.
The primary focus is to create the product at a lower cost than the competitors. This can be achieved through methods such as increasing efficiency or negotiating better contracts with your suppliers.
This advantage would allow you sell the product at a lower price, in the way that budget airlines do, or you could simply retain the original price and make a better margin.
Using differentiation you develop a product that offers the customer something that they value which unique or different that they can’t get from anywhere else. You need to have access to a lot of Innovation and Creativity within your business if you are to succeed with this approach.
The rewards are high as you are able to charge a higher price for your product. Apple and Dyson are good examples of companies that have used differentiation.
Focus Or Niche
With Focus you design your product in such a way that it appeals to a smaller, more focussed niche than you otherwise would. Within that segment you would either proceed with a differentiation strategy or a cost leadership strategy. This approach is favoured by smaller companies that cannot afford to compete against larger ones for a broader market.
An example would be a company such as Waitrose who target a wealthier demographic of shopper in comparison with someone like Tesco.
The diagram below helps to illustrate the different strategies available, and the way the Focus strategy can be used with Cost Leadership and Differentiation.
Final Thoughts on Competitive Advantage
While porter’s strategies have been very popular it is worth pointing out that there are a few shortcomings. Porter says that you need to pick either a cost based or differentiation strategy and not be stuck in the middle. However I think that that a lot of businesses are both different and low cost, it seems counterintuitive to just focus on one of these things and ignore the other.
I believe these strategies are a good starting point when looking for ways to improve your business, or are considering the launch of a new product.
Innovation can provide numerous benefits to your company. It stops the company stagnating and it allows you gain an edge over your competitors through staying relevant adapting to new opportunities quicker.
All companies have people that are capable of innovation, below are some techniques through which you can promote innovation and benefit from your existing resources.
Try and promote innovation around a particular problem to get everyone focused. It could be said that “Constraints are the engines for innovation”. Getting everyone focused on a particular problem also avoids people going off on unproductive tangents or suggesting things that may not be useful or relevant at the present time.
Foster a culture that supports and rewards innovation
Highlighting previous ideas that have been successful can be inspirational. It is also worthwhile having a good and generous reward scheme in place to provide incentive for creating new ideas.
Encourage Inter-disciplinary Learning
Group together individuals that don’t normally work together in brainstorming sessions. This cross fertilization will help people gain a different perspective on an idea they had clearly established in their own mind, and hopefully create new ideas and solutions.
Use all members of an organisation. As all those different perspectives could be beneficial. Also there may be certain people who you wouldn’t expect to have good ideas that do, but no one ever asked them.
Use different prompts to facilitate innovation
There are many different tools and techniques that can be used facilitate innovation. Brainstorming is one of the classic techniques, creating mind-maps and setting up a forum where people can post and discuss ideas is also very useful.
Get inspiration from other industries
Take a good look at a company that has been successful in another industry and see if there is anything that you can incorporate into your own business.
Identify your innovators
Some people tend to be more innovative than others – try and identify the most innovative people and provide them with the resources and encouragement they require to help them innovate more effectively.
Give people “Innovation Time Off”
Give people a set amount of time every week where they can let their imaginations run wild where they can work on their own projects.
This may be difficult in today’s economy, but look at the big picture – take a look at Google for inspiration. Their AdSense for Content program was developed using “20% time”, and it is now clearly established as one of their most profitable revenue streams.
In short there are numerous ways to improve innovation, so why not give it a try and reap the rewards.