embed continuous improvement

CI and Quality Improvement are two tools for delivering efficient and effective public services. How can you embed these skills in your organisation? Andrew Sandford enlightens us here

We work with many organisations implementing CI and quality improvement (QI) in their organisations. One of the drawbacks of trying to implement these is the lack of specialist skills in business analysis to deliver the improvement analysis.

By their very nature, CI and QI are meant to be common repeatable processes used to continually analyse and improve your services. At their very essence, they are not designed to be a one-off event done to services as part of projects.

With the progression of technology and other changes such as austerity budgets in the public sector the need for effective CI functions in organisations. CI based on lean thinking is an integral part of a best practice delivery pipeline including other approaches blended to deliver the best results (service design, lean startup and agile).

What are the benefits?

There are many benefits to a true CI approach. Engaging all of the stakeholders in modelling and identifying improvements in processes will deliver process improvement. Engaging the stakeholders in the process ensures that people feel like they have contributed to the process and feel ownership/buy into the changes, this also makes implementation easier.

With the people actually doing the work being involved in designing the new processes you are getting better quality improvements and starting to embed CI thinking in your organisation. Given how far technology has moved in recent years and the lack of true CI happening in organisations there is process debt in almost all processes we encounter.

What is process debt?

Many of you will have heard of technical debt in technology and software projects. Taken from Wikipedia – technical debt is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.

Technical debt builds up in software projects over time and unless addressed is likely to cause issues and suboptimal behaviour later in the life of your products/processes.

Process debt is a similar concept. Processes grow organically over time as additional checks and balances are added to processes as a result of changes, problems and issues encountered. For example, a change in legislation requires some new information to be collected or an issue happens in a process and new additional control/checking procedures are implemented to address the issue. Process debt is also caused by technology like when there is a software issue which will not be fixed immediately and a workaround is implemented on top of the initial process.

As problems occur and require urgent resolution often the fixes that are applied are not done by reviewing the end to end process merely as a ‘sticking plaster’ fix around the problem. These temporary solutions often become part of the normal ongoing process and are not removed when fixes are applied.

Do you have parts of your processes that we do because ‘we have always done it that way’? If so, it is likely some of these things are part of your process debt. This process debt contributes to the user experience and hampers our ability to deliver the user or patient needs. As a result, our processes contain waste that adds cost and inefficiency.

Why does this occur?

As already stated, time pressures and urgency affect the processes organic growth. A lack of skills, effective tools and time for our operational staff hamper their ability to deliver better change. Often only the people doing the work truly feel the impact of the process debt and understand the additional burden this puts on the delivery of services.

Instead of CI being applied to our processes instead improvement projects are instigated periodically where experts from outside the service will look at delivering improvements with varying levels of engagement with the people doing the work. This can easily lead to a feeling that ‘changes are being done to us’ and lead to a lack of buy-in, implementation problems and suboptimal changes. As a result, there are significant benefits that can be released by addressing process debt.

So, what can we do about it?

Some of our most successful customers, getting the best results and true culture change are achieving this through embedding CI and QI skills and tools in their operational teams. These teams are delivering improvement as part of their normal day to day activities and are empowered to identify improvements.

It is a different model where small central improvement teams are operating as improvement coaches to the teams delivering services. Applying marginal gains thinking or the true Toyota Kata approach to embedding CI and changing the culture of the organisation. An example is Edinburgh City Council where they have trained 200+ users in a year all supported by a small team of four improvement coaches.

We provide tools and training to help organisations to train their coaches and create sustainable ongoing improvement capabilities across the organisation. Our tools make the traditional process discovery/understanding much easier by providing tools that not only do it better but also save time for the analysts documenting the process.

The software takes the pain of process discovery away. Providing a platform where processes are capture live in workshops but also times and costs are embedded within the models meaning potential improvements can demonstrate not only a new process map but a model showing the benefits of the changes.

This is a true process improvement platform where maps are created and shared digitally and can be published to a digital process handbook when changes are made acting as a single source of process information for compliance, information and to register further ideas for improvement.

If you need to improve processes or you map processes have a look at our blog here which shows how you can map and improve processes in an efficient and effective way.


Andrew Sandford


We are Lean and Agile

Tel: +44 (0)180 342 4050





Please note: This is a commercial profile


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