Why Your IT Organization Needs to Embrace Continuous Improvement

Getting better all the time is the goal of continuous improvement. Here's what you need to know to bring this powerful concept to your organization.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

October 21, 2022

4 Min Read
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Continuous improvement is the term used to describe an organization's ongoing enhancement and advancement of products, services, and/or processes through incremental and breakthrough upgrades. These efforts can lead to incremental improvements over time, or a single breakthrough advancement.

There are many continuous improvement methodologies, such as Lean, Total Quality Management, ISO 9000, Theory of Constraints, Agile, and ITIL 4, says Rob Smallwood, General Dynamics Information Technology’s technology vice president. “Continuous improvement focuses on improving the value to either or both the supplier and consumer, and typically is a balance between three factors: cost/efficiency; functionality/effectiveness; and risk for both the supplier and consumer.”

More than a methodology or process, continuous improvement is a mindset. “It started out as a broad concept in mass production, designed to increase efficiency and reduce things like waste and idle time, but now it's evolved into something that requires a total culture shift across the organization that allows companies to rethink processes and experiences with innovation at the core,” explains Fabio Sartori, a managing director in Accenture’s technology strategy and advisory group.

Continuous improvement benefits an organization by enabling incremental shifts in how time is spent by IT teams to focus on higher value activities, while minimizing disruption and organizational resistance, says David McIntire, director of application management and development solutions at business consulting firm Capgemini Americas.

Continuous Improvement Mindset

Continuous improvement drives efficiency and boosts reliability across the organization, from internal processes to financial management to customer touchpoints. “With a continuous improvement mindset in place, companies can reduce complexity, improve efficiency, control costs and make customers’ lives better -- all while driving innovation,” Sartori says. “This type of innovation is . . . incremental, and when backed by the right metrics it improves productivity, resolves issues as they’re forming, and allows for continuous tuning of services.”

By helping IT teams focus on higher value activities, continuous improvement minimizes disruption and organizational resistance. The methodology also focuses on changes driven by the resources closest to the IT landscape, and helps teams become more knowledgeable about the value of these changes to the environment, McIntire notes.

Maximum benefits can be realized when an organization not only employs continuous improvement, but measures and proves results to their staff and customers, says Chris Lepotakis, a senior associate at global cybersecurity assessor Schellman. “This provides a greater trust in service and products offered by an organization and fosters higher fidelity between the organization, employees, and customers,” he explains. “Being able to show your customers what you're doing to improve your business, and what it means to their benefit, shows care and transparency on how the organization has recognized and improved on weak points.” It also proves that the organization is always looking for ways to provide continued value and trust, Lepotakis adds.

First Steps on Road to Continuous Improvement

Organizations looking to develop a continuous improvement culture should begin by creating a framework to support delivery resources. Such a framework should include processes for identifying, assessing, and implementing changes, as well as metrics to measure service quality, McIntire advises. The technical foundation should include systems for collating data on IT application performance, AI-enabled problem management, and decision support systems for executing continuous improvement initiatives, he adds.

A key step in continuous improvement adoption is selecting the most appropriate method. Product vendors, for instance, may find Lean and/or Total Quality Management methods to be the most suitable choices. Service providers, on the other hand, may turn to ITIL 4 or Agile, Smallwood says. “Teams should be educated on the methods, especially those that have a direct impact to consumers,” he suggests. “It's also helpful to add someone to the team who has expertise in the chosen method.”

IT leaders, meanwhile, should recognize their essential role in building a continuous improvement culture. “To enable broader organizational buy-in of the framework, senior leaders must act as visible champions of the approach, empower the on-the-ground employees delivering services, and ensure a common vision on the objectives to be realized through the continuous innovation program,” McIntire says. “By enabling the right cultural mind-set and well-defined incentives, IT leaders will be able to achieve both high employee morale and customer satisfaction.”

Final Points

All IT teams can benefit from continuous improvement, Sartori notes. “Continuous improvement doesn’t just benefit IT teams; it helps drive innovation across the entire organization.”

While it may seem like an expensive and daunting commitment, continuous improvement doesn’t have to be either costly or time-consuming. “Getting started can feel like a large undertaking, and a fear of failure to execute can dissuade organizations from trying new things,” Lepotakis observes. “But if an organization starts with small, attainable goals, where you can easily measure success, you can grow your improvement process step by step.”

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About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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