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Continuous Improvement in IT Companies

Throughout history, critical and innovative perspectives of certain individuals almost uniformly led towards a greater and more prosperous future of our civilization. Questioning every nook and cranny of our society’s belief system always played (and always should play) a major role in what we would proudly call improvement.

A little bit of history

World War II’s aftermath came with a sobering effect in regards to almost every habit we had developed as a species, and our vision of the ideal work methodology was not left untouched. Post-World War II Japan happened to be the birthplace of an idea, and more so a philosophy, which will from then go on to dethrone the traditional methodologies like the infamous “Waterfall”. Of course, we are referring to the “Kaizen” process.

In Japanese, “Kaizen” quite simply denotes — A change for the better. What it actually represents is a critical mindset that always challenges the status quo! No system or a process within a company can ever be considered ideal, and even though it may sound quite arrogant and far too ambitious, it actually is not. Continuous improvement can be achieved without having to spend a vast amount of time and money on planning and developing a new product, or a new system.

Kaizen puts to the forefront those changes that are quite often being overseen, changes of minuscule presence, almost imperceptible. Most of the time, we are talking about changes that are less than grandiose, and which can be implemented practically on the same day! Each and everyone in the company has the equal potential to be the catalyst for change, the change for the better.

The New Product Development Game

Scrum has been a major constituent of the continuous improvement movement. However, prior to tackling on how improvement is being made through Scrum and Kanban, we have to give an insight into the ideas that paved the way for their uprise. In the late 1980', Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka published a study in Harvard Business Review, revealing how some companies in Japan and USA have thrown the sequential product development out the window and settled on a much more unstable, flexible, eclectic and cross-functional team driven approach. This approach is what we are referring to as the “New Product Development Game”.

Companies like Toyota, Canon, Fuji — Xerox, and others — all treat their product development unconventionally. Instead of having a few key, highly specialized individuals pressing the buttons and changing the game, they have decided to pass the torch onto their cross-functional teams, which are consisted of individuals that vary in their fields of expertise. Truth be told, the companies set a deadline and provide their teams with necessary resources, but other than that, teams are pretty much self-controlled.

What the “New Product Development Game” is relying on in this work context is multifunctional learning, self-organization, the power of autonomy and overlapping development phases, flexibility, and above all, self-transcendence of the team. Unconventional practices mean that the team members need to strain their brain in order to get somewhere and deliver a complete product before the deadline expires. Hence, one of the most highly regarded aspects of this movement is the existence of a reasonably brief time-box.

The briefness of it is important in order to promptly acquire the feedback from the market, while simultaneously mildly pressuring the team to come up with a shippable product in due time.

Continuous improvement through:

1. SCRUM

Given the fact that it is a managing process for product development, it is quite obvious that Scrum affects the continuous improvement process. Scrum relies heavily on transparency, inspection and adaptation. Every single sprint is followed by a retrospective meeting which is the perfect setting for inspection and adaptation. Teams have a continual opportunity to discuss which changes and implements have proven to be effective, and which have plummeted. Additionally, they are encouraged to suggest more feasible solutions and work on the adaptation of the current product with the previously set goals.

2. KANBAN

Kanban puts the team in front of the individual. Achieving desirable results is done by working on waste reduction, process flow, adequate testing, while simultaneously encouraging collaboration, communication, and multi-level learning. Kanban’s foundation is the pull, not the push model. The workload is always among key priorities, thus making it more balanced, which means more projects will come to their fruition. So, continuous improvement through Kanban is done by reinforcing a collective mindset, bringing the workload to a balanced level, reducing waste and focusing on the system’s efficiency, not the individual’s.