Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

A Systems-Based Framework for Continuous Improvement: A Service Sector Application

Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

A Systems-Based Framework for Continuous Improvement: A Service Sector Application

Article excerpt

Abstract

Based on the Deming Cycle and the Jointer 7 Step Method, a new systems-based framework for performing continuous improvement has been developed. This new conceptual framework embodies the systems concepts of leverage, synergy, and sensitivity analysis. This paper demonstrates how these systems concepts could be applied to improve customer satisfaction in a small, recently-established, law firm. The resultant customer-focused action plan is designed to avoid any negative effects associated potential suboptimization that might occur when an improvement team focuses on a single organizational process.

Introduction

The two major cornerstones of operations management are quality and productivity. From an internal perspective, managers concerned with the day-to-day operations have always sought to improve customer satisfaction through increasing the quality and productivity of the processes designed to perform work in organizations. The Total Quality Management (TQM) philosophy with its major focus on continuous improvement (CI) has promoted the mobilization of process improvement teams. In many organizations, these teams of employees have been instrumental in advocating a never-ending process of performance improvement (Cheney, et al., 1994).

By improving processes by which work is performed, the focus is on continuously and incrementally improving everything associated with designing, creating, and delivering satisfaction to a firm's customers. The rationale for CI is that customer needs are not static, but are dynamic and change continually. As a result, although a firm's outputs and/or its processes may be considered innovative today, competitive forces may render them commonplace tomorrow. That is, today's "order winners" readily become tomorrow's "order qualifiers" (Hill, 1994). Thus, a firm is only able to maintain its competitiveness in a dynamic marketplace by continuously improving. In short, CI can be an effective operations strategy if it (1) addresses the needs of the customers, (2) seeks to improve on the competencies of the competitors, and (3) is able to reflect desired changes in the firm's internal capacities and capabilities (Schonberger & Knod, 1997).

W. Edwards Deming has stated that managers must constantly and forever improve their production and service processes. Furthermore, he notes that improvement is not just a "one-time effort" and that managers are obligated to continuously search for and implement ways to reduce waste and improve quality (Walton, 1986). Juran (1989) verbalizes his agreement in the following two imperatives: (1) "to maintain and increase sales income, companies must continually evolve new product features and new processes to produce these features", and (2) "to keep costs competitive, companies must continually reduce the level of product and process deficiencies." Moreover, he believes that both customer needs and competitive cost structures are moving targets. From an international perspective, kaizen, is the name that the Japanese have given to the concept of continuous incremental improvement. It is considered to be the single most important concept in Japanese management and the key to their competitive success (Imai, 1986) because it is operationalized throughout the total organization and expected to be practiced by all employees at every level. Kaizen means making changes for the better on an ongoing, never-ending, basis.

Continuous improvement is usually embodied in a structured approach which emphasizes the need to establish an organizational commitment to a systematic, continual improvement in capability, reliability, and efficiency of business processes (Conway, 1993). This paper presents an alternative approach to structuring the CI process that incorporates systems thinking. Based on the Deming Cycle and the Jointer 7 Step Method, this new framework incorporates several concepts from systems theory. …

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