In today’s software development landscape, the demand for product’s new features and better quality is making the competition higher than ever. To keep up with the market demand, businesses need to be able to deliver products faster to market, while still maintaining quality standards as expected. As a result, software development and engineering teams have to face the same pressures brought on by the market demand.
Continuous improvement is an approach to help businesses keep pace with these competing demands in a time and cost-effective way. In fact, continuous improvement is an improvement technique that can enable organizations to identify opportunities to enhance work processes across businesses, at the same time reducing waste and inefficiencies.
The purpose of continuous improvement
Imagine that there’s virtually an “Uber for X” for any business in any industry these days. Seemingly, there’s also another rival who invest significantly in their product to counter offer consumers the same and also bring more value for the better, and cheaper.
The original market leader is threatened by several competitors who could to take up their spot at any time.
Under the circumstances, it’s important for businesses to adopt the principle of continuous improvement to increase the value that their software product offers to end-users as well as the way it’s developed.
This is because, nowadays, it’s no longer enough to just passively react to the market changes, in a lagging kind of way. The current digital economy requires businesses to actively seek to increase the value of their products by predicting and anticipating changes and turn ideas into necessary updates for their audience quickly, and efficiently.
A large number of organizations’ digital transformation efforts became impending or hindered due to various reasons which emphasize significant changes happening to the people and employees.
Many changes happening all at once can make it difficult for people to deal with and adapt to, especially when organizations seek to plan everything upfront and implement all changes altogether, in one go (e.g. modernizing legacy systems and train employees to adopt such systems without sufficient resources or alignment between departments, etc.).
A more efficient approach is to identify one or two problems that can be solved with digital technology and carry out a pilot project for a quick win, and then implement incremental changes that can directly add value delivered to end-users – i.e., continuous improvement.
The ones who can continuously improve their products and services will have a better chance to become market leaders instead of laggers.
How To Apply Continuous Improvement?
For organizations that begin to adopt a continuous improvement culture, the following principles are essential and need to be considered for building a bedrock for future success:
- Value Stream Mapping
It is important to have a full overview of the entire business system to effectively understand the current process – by outlining the operation flows and actions needed to create value for customers. This helps supports continuous improvement by enabling the development team to identify the aspect that does not add value to the end product or service.
After the key-value items have been successfully defined, the next step is to move on to actions management – a highly essential aspect of continual improvement that optimizes value streams to be more efficient, manageable, and secure.
- Reduce Waste
By recognizing and minimizing waste across processes in different systems, development teams can improve efficiency and reduce costs. In terms of software development, examples can include outstanding items not being finished, non-working time or delays, unnecessary workloads in processes (WIP), productivity (for example, inefficient scheduling), and failures.
- Root Cause Analysis
Analyzing the root cause is what development teams need to do to find out the real cause of the problems such as bugs and software errors, not the symptoms. An effective way to get started is to ask why the problem exists. Ask what the answer is, why it happened, and keep going until you find the root cause of the problem.
- Value Stream Management Methodology
Value stream management is a way to improve the flow of work and materials through the production process. In this context, it can also be used for knowledge-based work, such as software development, based on the flow of working elements, such as features requests and bug reports made by the development & QA/QC team. It is based on several factors, and executed as follow:
– Visualise, or map the workflow
Start by creating a value chart that shows all the steps in the workflow in a column-based panel. Then display the tabs or images on the worksheets on the whiteboard and move them from column to column as the work progresses, problems occur, or priorities change.
– Manage flow
Ensure work runs smoothly by identifying the current status and addressing any of the issues that arise.
– Ensure process transparency
Place the workflow in a proof column or next to a visual table, so that each participant can identify what he or she has agreed to and be responsible for completing their tasks of the process.
– Feedback loops
Businesses need to monitor and measure results and feedback on whether the changes they are making are achieving the expected results.
– Collaboration among team members
Development team members need to work together to plan and implement improvements. This is not only beneficial based on the background of collective knowledge and experience but also contributes to supporting changes through team spirit and enthusiasm.
Sustain and maintain
As the name implies, continuous improvement is not a one-time process but will be continuous. To sustain the momentum, software development teams can incorporate several ongoing methods to empower anyone and everyone to share ideas and new initiatives openly, and quickly enable teams to act on implementing such an idea.
Certainly, not every new idea is an improvement and needs to be executed. However, it should be considered as an experiment to find out whether such a change can be realized as an improvement or not.
For the whole process to be realistically implemented and accurately measured, organizations will need to have a lot of data available across different systems and analytics capabilities to visualize and evaluate the outcomes, ensuring visibility and transparency of the whole process.
Quantified results in the forms of visual charts and graphs, as well as numbers, can make it easier for progress tracking and motivate teams to keep moving forward.
In conclusion, companies should incorporate continuous improvement into software development by identifying one or two improvements that can be built into an existing process, then incrementally updating it with new changes and ideas, ultimately improve their products and services, bringing newly added values to customers and stay leading in the market.
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