One of the key challenges in business improvement is “holding the gain”.
Holding the gain means ensuring that, once improvements to your business have been implemented, the area you have been working on stays improved. Continually.
Without a focus on holding the gain, you run the risk that when you move onto the next development project, all your hard won gains from the last are lost. As your focus moves elsewhere in the business, there is a danger that you leave the previous improvements to slowly deteriorate.
So how can you make sure you don’t lose your hard won gain? Shewhart/Deming’s PDCA Cycle is a good place to start…
- Plan. Work out your improvement plan before you start implementing it so you know exactly what you’ve agreed, how you are going to measure it and what you are expecting to be the result.
- Do. If you don’t actually carry out the improvement, you won’t find out if it works! “If objectives are only good intentions they are worthless. They must degenerate into work.” (Drucker, 2007, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, p.101)
- Check. If you don’t check your target measures (e.g. volume of sales) before implementing the improvement and after it has been implemented, you’ll only be guessing as to whether the improvement worked. Checking these measures allows you to find out if the improvement is achieving the results you expected. A note of caution however – make sure you allow enough time for the improvement to bed-in before you jump to conclusions about the results. Some measures may take several months to achieve the intended results; checking them in the first week may lead you to believe the improvement has not worked, whereas really it just needed time to get up to speed. Over time, you will then need to keep checking these results at regular intervals: this allows you to compare performance to the results you got first time around and to your expected results over time, thereby assessing whether the improvement is still performing at the expected level or whether it has lost its gain over time.
- Act. Having planned, done and checked, you now need to act. If the improvement has had the desired results, you need to act to hold your gain, or if it hasn’t performed as expected, you may need to start again by re-planning. It can be tempting to quickly move onto the next area of improvement without actually putting in measures to ensure you hold your gain. Measures to hold your gain may include (for example): revising processes; (re)writing policy; implementing ongoing staff training processes, and so on. And, at this stage, don’t forget to schedule the next time you’re going to check your results again to ensure you’ve held the gain over the long term.
Once you’ve done all of the above, you may proceed to plan your next improvement!