Guest Post: How to Choose Continuous Improvement Software

A Brief Buyer’s Guide to Choosing Continuous Improvement Software

By Chris Moustakas, President & CEO of DevonWay

Enterprise software companies never met an acronym they didn’t like. GAAP, ISO, ITIL, you name it: if it’s a string of letters representing a standard, that can only mean one thing: “Super, I don’t have to change it for a decade!” After all, it’s hard to modify software. And expensive. And risky. And who wants that kind of headache?

The problem is that process-heavy businesses don’t have the luxury of staying static. They’re constantly dealing with a barrage of regulatory hurdles, performance gaps, and inefficiencies, and have to move quickly to stay competitive. The best-performing organizations choose Continuous Improvement (CI) as the framework for achieving that agility. CI is proven, additive, and flexible, and has been used from making automotive manufacturers leaner to making nuclear reactors safer, and everything in between.

But when it comes time to buy or extend software to support a CI initiative, the decision becomes a lot less clear (if you think Excel is acceptable, be careful – you’re playing with fire). Three major categories seem like they might fit the bill, but each has its challenges (disclaimer – my company specializes in CI software, but we’re not the only ones, and these guidelines hold true for all of us):

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are operations-focused, as they should be, but they’re too rigid to cost-effectively include CI principles, whose foundation is rapid, incremental change. ERP is great for processes that need little to no improvement, like GAAP compliance or payroll functions. You don’t need to make sure the number of correct paychecks improves over time; you need to make sure they’re 100% correct 100% of the time, and ERP systems help you achieve that.
  • Quality Management Systems (QMS) are great for ISO compliance, but they were designed by and for Quality teams, with only a passing thought to operations. You can use CI software for QMS functions, but you can’t go the other way.
  • Business Process Management (BPM) tools help you optimize your processes, but in the end you still need to find and buy a separate system to execute your improvements. BPM is the professor who spends his time theorizing; CI is the engineer who spends her time doing.

Good CI software incorporates elements from all three systems, because Continuous Improvement happens when you apply Quality principles to Operational needs. Once you accept that principle, you realize that CI software is like an ERP with flexibility, a QMS with scale, and a BPM with focus. It lets you define, execute, measure, and refine both a process and the data it produces.

Ultimately, CI is about collecting and understanding operational data. With that in mind, when you’re looking for software to support your continuous improvement initiatives, ask the following simple questions. Score each answer 0 for no support, 1 for okay support, and 2 for excellent support.

  1. Can I collect the data that matters to my operations, or am I limited to what’s predefined in the software?
  2. Can I easily report on and analyze that data, even my custom fields?
  3. Can I route the data through my own workflow, using my own rules and assignments?
  4. Is the software a closed loop system that lets me know if my operational goals are trending in the right direction, and where I have gaps?
  5. Can I easily adjust the software as my needs change?

Add up the total. The closer you get to 10, the more likely it is the software will meet your needs.

Finally, look at the pricing model. You want a solution that scales to every user in your organization without a large license or subscription cost, because CI should be embedded in your operations, not an afterthought. So avoid per-seat pricing: it quickly spirals out of control. Whatever the cost basis, it should parallel the value you get out of the system.

It’s a great time to be incorporating continuous improvement in your organization. The right tool is out there to help you succeed. Find it and get to work!

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: How to Choose Continuous Improvement Software”

  1. I didn’t know about this Continuous Improvement (CI) up until now. I think that business software should gradually change and improve in the long since there’s always competition and the ones who fall behind fail or get the least of the action.

    1. The delivery model (hosted vs on-premise) and pricing model (license vs subscription) should not affect software’s ability to incorporate change, assuming it was designed correctly. Some vendors choose to be 100% on-premise and others 100% hosted, but that is a business choice usually driven by support costs. At our company we leave it to the buyer to tell us what they need, although about 80% of our customers are hosted and 20% on-premise if that helps.

  2. Great Post. I know that we integrate CRM and ERP with CI, but I don’t know about the QMS and BPM. How it is possible to have QMS and BPM with CI. If we used that, whether the software is user-friendly? Please reply for this and thanks for sharing.

    1. There are lots of areas where CRM, ERP, QMS, BPM, and CI overlap. The important thing is to focus, not on the feature sets of particular product suites, but on the problems whose solutions will bring the most value to your business. For example, let’s say you have an organizational goal of improving your Net Promoter Score since that will differentiate you from your competition. You may decide that an effective way of doing that is by implementing a Customer Feedback & Complaints module (which is a common part of QMS), layer on it a rapid-response workflow that automatically routes items to the proper owner (which you can design with any BPM), then on top of that define a weekly management KPI to ensure you’re trending in the right direction (CI). You can use three separate tools to do that, but good CI-focused software will let you do it all in the same system.

      As for user-friendliness, that should be a requirement of all software. As a program owner, one of the worst things you can do is try to force people to use software that they hate using. (We’ve all been there, haven’t we?)

  3. Great article with true facts that we must be known before selecting a perfect software. The software enterprises are works on an agile process where the updates and also the bugs are resolved in a looping manner but not every enterprise provides this facility to all of their customers. So must be know all the things about the software.

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