The roadmap to continuous improvement success

The roadmap to success is challenging, however it is possible to achieve.

While creating the roadmap for the transformation, it is critical to keep in mind your people, customers, and how you will execute the plan to ensure sustainability.  To ensure success in the transformation into a continuous improvement culture, maintain the focus on those three aspects.

Roadmap to respect and teamwork

Continuous improvement is a people’s system.  Your team is the heart that keeps the CI thinking alive and kicking.  Therefore, it is a good practice to evaluate your company culture before you start and every year after that.  You want to know if the culture is changing in the right direction.  For example, if the levels of engagement are increasing or employee turnover is decreasing.

Respect for the people and teamwork are the foundation of the new culture.  Leadership shows respect and promotes collaboration in different ways.  Visiting gemba every day to see problems and listening to their team concerns to find solutions together is one way.  Another is to take advantage of those moments to teach them how to analyze them, find the root cause, and create solutions.  Those gemba walks along with huddle meetings help to give clarity, alignment, and effective communication.  

Participation increases when they have a clear vision of how their work fits within the company mission.  In other words, to know how what they do affects the customer and the company’s bottom line.    

Customer experience journey during the transformation

The focus of our daily operation is the customer.  The continuous improvement goal is to deliver the best quality product or service, at the lowest cost, in the shortest amount of time.  But to be able to do that, we need to know first what they need.

What problem or need are you looking to solve or fulfill.  What constitutes value from the customer lenses?  Listening to the voice of your customers is as important as listening to your team.  Use your customer input to create new value proposals, redesign processes, and guide improvement events.

Sometimes, you think you know what they need, but the truth is that there are times when not even they know.  If it is possible, look for ways to feel the experience yourself.  Observe the process to understand the challenges your customers deal with.  By doing this, you will see what the real problems are.  Maybe what you perceive as a quality problem is a service issue.

Also, keep in mind that their needs and wants can change over time.  Go out to gemba or the marketplace as often as you can and talk with your customers, current, and potential.  Ask questions to understand their pain points and needs.  Get a look at what your competitors are doing or how your customers look at them.

Roadmap to excellence

A strategy is a way to achieve the mission and provides the framework to make decisions.   To achieve excellence, you need the help of your team.  Therefore, they need to know which is the strategy.  Moreover, if you give them participation in creating the execution plan, the chances of success grow exponentially.   

However, a good plan is not good enough if it does not include how to sustain the change.  There are a couple of things that are critical in this plan.  One of them is how to make sure that every day everybody participates in continuous improvement activities.  Another is the establishment of a daily management system that ensures that leadership will do their part.  Integral parts of this system are the gemba walks, leader standard work, and huddle meetings.  

To follow-up progress, make sure to identify key operating metrics that are aligned with the company goals.  Translate these metrics from top leadership to the shop floor or office.  You will need them to make visual management work.  Make it easy for everybody to know if the company is winning or losing.  The sooner you can identify that something is not working, the sooner you can change course.

Also, plan to evaluate the safety program, training needs, desired behaviors within the new culture, and business performance in different areas.  For example, assess productivity, quality, delivery, and operating costs.

Follow the roadmap to achieve CI success

The road to excellence is bumpy, with curves, hurdles, and other challenges.  However, it is also a great adventure where the daily journey is more important than the final goal.  Consistency is the name of the game.  Practice day, even when you think it is not working.  Never stop learning, practicing, and teaching.  The reward is knowing that you are changing lives, growing your team, and in the process building a flexible and profitable business.

User story map, what is it?

build the customer journey with a user story map

In a continuous improvement environment, the customer is who defined the value of a product or service.  If you are thinking about launching a new product or service, you may need to create the user story map first.  This tool will help you to visualize the customer journey.

What is a user story map?

User story mapping is a tool used in software development to identify the work that will create the best user experience.  Through the use of this tool, teams understand their customer needs better.  The structure is similar to the swim-lane chart.  It uses horizontal lanes for activities, tasks, sub-tasks, and priorities.  Each activity has a column with its duties or stories drawn below.   The example below is my version of the user story map.

user story map

Although it is a software development tool, you can use a user story map in other settings.  No product or service will be successful unless designed with the customer in mind.  A user story is a short and simple description of the product or service from the customer’s lenses.  Therefore, it is a good idea to use a user story map before you execute your plan.

Steps to create a user story map

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Understand your customers
  3. Map user activities
  4. Map user stories under user activities
  5. Rank stories from most important to least important
  6. Identify roadblocks
  7. Create your execution plan 

Benefits of this type of mapping

If you are a product manager or an entrepreneur, this exercise will help define the work or activities that would create a good customer experience.  While mapping the customer journey, you will have the following benefits.

  • By defining the problem that you expected to solve with your product or service, you get clear objectives.
  • Design the product or service from the customer’s lenses, which ensures the desired experience.  
  • By identifying major steps in the customer journey, you will understand better the essential tasks.
  • Another benefit is that you can organize and prioritize those tasks for better plan execution.  
  • While drawing the customer story, the team can identify challenges or roadblocks. 
  • Also, they will have the chance to see opportunities to improve.  
  • By creating the story map as a group, you are promoting teamwork and collaboration.  

Different uses for a story map

These are some examples of areas where you can use a story map.  

  • While writing an article, blog post, or book, you start with what question do you want to answer?  Tailor your writing style to your audience by knowing who they would be.  Your activities are your book chapters or article headings and sub-headings.  If you have too many headings, prioritize to decide what to include and what to left out.
  • During my years facilitating training, I found out that people learn better when you tell them a story.  Moreover, it is more effective when they can relate to the story.  For that reason, this type of map is helpful to design a successful learning experience.  With it, you can visualize the trainee’s needs and identify challenges.
  • For new product development, it is necessary to understand your users and the problem you want to solve.  There is no time for guessing the right story or workflow for your design.  
  • It works well to design a new service as well.
  • You can define and divide any project into activities, tasks, and sub-tasks.

To sum up

User story mapping is a great tool to visualize the work needed from the customer’s lenses.  Although it is known as an agile tool, it is helpful to design a product or service.  The focus of the design process is the customer, as it should be.  The story map tells the story of the customer’s problem and the activities to solve it.  In other words, it explains the customer experience.

A story map is not written in stone.  Just like standards, they are live documents that should reflect what is happening in real life.  Include all changes and additions in the map as soon as possible.   In the next blog, I will explain how to build your user story map.