Avoiding the continuous improvement technology trap

By Adam Brown

OK, so we know that we need to deliver continuous improvement in order to ensure our organisation remains viable and achieves its stated outcomes, but how? The first trap to avoid is starting with technology.

Where to start

When you are operating with legacy systems, processes, jobs and skillsets, the challenge is breaking these shackles off. It is an oft-peddled strategy, but it is essential to begin by revisiting your “Why?” (insert obligatory nod to Simon Sinek). Why are you doing what you are doing? What do you want to achieve?

I was at a Cerebral Palsy Alliance conference recently and the CEO told his 450 plus staff that his main aim involved making them all redundant. It felt like a pretty shocking thing to say, but fundamentally beyond improving the lives of people with cerebral palsy, his “Why” was to help eradicate the condition pre-birth through medical advancements. This kind of clarity provides the necessary context for deciding whether changes are needed to process, and then and only then, whether there is also a need to look at changes to technology.

People before technology

We must always consider the people involved in the change. Organisations need to understand what their customers are feeling, what they are experiencing, their key influencers and their buying power. They must understand what their employees are feeling and what they are actually doing. Are they on point with their messaging? Are they in line with service provision and sales standards? The person to look at early in the conversation is the product owner. They don’t need to have technical expertise but will ideally understand where the business is at and where it wants to go. Technology solutions will fall into place easily if these insights have been established.

Implementation

Good implementation comes down to good communication and change management. Do the right people know that the right things are happening? This goes for clients, internal staff and internal stakeholders. We need to take a holistic view: from engaging HR because there is going to be KPI or cultural shifts, to collaboration with marketing and sales because we are going to automate some of the sales process through online order forms.

If you charge in and focus your energy on the technology piece first you end up just serving technology. And technology alone is rarely adopted. It’s about taking individuals on the journey of the improvement and creating a pull for it from staff and customers.

Frequency

It is prudent to set up cadence around the frequency of improvements. Some companies will do this on a daily basis, such as education company I that I worked with that drops technology updates daily to keep up with the Chinese student market. For most companies this would be too frequent. Commonly companies look at fortnightly or monthly releases. However, there is always a need to consider how much change your people can handle before change fatigue sets in. That goes for customers as well as staff.

I was speaking to someone in a taxi recently who was complaining that Qantas was putting out too many updates on their mobile app, including layout changes. The impact was that when they went to pay for flights, they could never find the pay button, adding to booking time. This is an unfortunate pain point around what should be the most streamlined part of any organisation’s process. Continuous improvers take note!

Failing fast

Finally, in a market that is being disrupted at an astronomical rate, it is incredibly important for business leaders to have a fail fast mentality. Having the ability to jump into a proof of concept that allows you to test the market is an essential component of the continuous improvement model.

If your diagnosis, design and implementation approaches heed the above advice you will be able to deliver the continuous improvement you need to stay ahead of the game.

I will break out these elements further in future blogs, so stay tuned.