Continuous improvement : How to unlock collective intelligence and foster employees commitment ?

Date: April 9, 2020

By Constant Ondo

Can a company, a department, an employee continually improve themselves ? And if yes, how ?

After several years of implementation of Lean and 6 Sigma in production and several plans to improve processes, it might be hard to identify new sources of progress.

Yet, improving, again and again, is a matter of survival. The aim is not only to achieve zero defects in production but, according to the definition of the verb improve, to change in order to make products and services better. Continuous improvement goes then well beyond doing better what is already done. It also means doing differently in a changing environment to better meet customer’s needs… which are changing too.

Considering continuous improvement this way reveals why agility has become a core value of the Industrie 4.0 which applies equally for manufacturing, customer service, R&D or marketing activities. And for which enhancing collective intelligence through digital tools such as PICC Software is essential.

Let’s explain.

Collective intelligence as a solution to complexity

As they progress in controlling their processes and managing quality, companies need to solve increasingly complex issues if they want to keep improving. The implementation of Lean Management and Kaizen principles starts with simple improvements (such as organizing workstations or using visual management), set up by autonomous teams and quickly showing results.

Once the main waste sources (mudas) are eliminated, the teams can sit down together in order to solve more complicated issues, such as erratic production performance, with tools such as the Ishikawa diagram or the 5 Whys. This collaborative work will again, for a while, lead to significant improvements.

But what happens next ? Can collaborative teamwork solve problems with multiple and interdependant causes and effects ? Hardly. Or at the cost of new « mudas » : the involment of an increasing number of experts and complex, time-consuming analysis.

It is at this stage, which most companies have already reached, that collective intelligence platforms have a role to play. Through an automatic modeling of complex problems and by linking each of their causes with solutions already considered and/or tested, such platforms help guide thinking and offer a tool for decision-making.

New ideas to nurture change

As we said earlier in this article, continuous improvement has to be led in an agile way to respond to fast-changing customer needs, competitive environment, technologies…

To ensure its long-term future, a company can no longer simply improve its current activities. It must also consider acting differently, deeply transforming its processes, and even developing new skills. Sustainable performance improvement today requires a big dollop of innovation and change management.

Cross-functional projects are multiplying, collaborative work is encouraged and corporate social networks (CSN) appear as a good tool to break silos and increase communication. Yet, interactions within corporate social networks seldom lead, on their own, to truly fresh ideas. Getting results again requires to involve a wide number of experts and to coordinate inputs on a daily basis. Plus to be able to capitalize knowledge from one project to another ; otherwise projects can end up in reinventing the wheel. The worst consequence of which would be that employees feel it takes too much effort for poor results and become less committed to innovation and change.

PICC Software addresses the issue in another way. Assuming that true innovations are creative answers to unsolved problems, our collective intelligence platform organizes all the knowledge, know-how, return on experience and insights of a company, as well as data coming from IoT sensors, in a network of interdependant problems and solutions.

Doing so, PICC Software offers to anyone in charge of continuous improvement, innovation or change management a formidably powerful tool to move projects forward : the Knowledge Map (KMAP).

This interactive knowledge map with real-time update simultaneously allows to :

identify unsolved problems
find their root causes
visualize and assess all the solutions already implemented to solve them
automate search for new solutions in external knowledge bases
create ad hoc teams by identifying new experts and skills within the company
steer action plans

For more details on the 6 functionalities of PICC Software that boost the performance of your teams, read our article about IoT sensors.

Personal development as a basis to commitment

According to Kaizen principles, continuous improvement requires a total commitment from employees.

Nurturing this commitment is easier than it sounds, and the keyword for that is « personal development ». With the aim of giving everyone the means to fulfill his job efficiently, on his own, under various circumstances, and to show initiative when unexpected events occur.

Being involved in problem solving has indeed been identified as one of the key factors of employees commitment. Why ? Because it increases individual expertise (and thus self-initiative) while serving collective goals.

It is thus essential to meet this need when trying to unlock collective intelligence for the benefit of sustainable performance improvement.

And it is exactly what PICC Software does, enabling any employee to tap into shared knowledge for his own purposes, as well as to promote his return on experience throughout the community. With a real benefit compared to what he would have get trying to solve the problem alone and keeping his knowledge for himself. Collective intelligence contributes to his personal development and strengthens his commitment. The virtuous circle is set in motion.

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