How Continuous Improvement Turns Giant Leaps of Progress into Small, Manageable Steps

In his first appearance on, Jeff Keyes (VP of Product Marketing & Strategy, Plutora) shares his insights on how tech leaders should be adopting a continuous iterative process to unlock greater potential in the enterprise.

As digital transformation continues to accelerate, and IT professionals are subjected to immense pressure to innovate and build better, faster software, many businesses look for ways to build efficiency into their development processes from the ground up.

The demand for innovative features at a lower cost puts a real strain on development teams, therefore IT leaders must evolve faster, finding ways to improve efficiency without compromising on quality. One method that could help to balance these two competing demands is the continuous improvement approach.

Continuous improvement is a business approach based on the principle of ongoing effort to improve products, services, and the processes in place to manufacture or provide them.

Realising the Value of Continuous Improvement

To help illustrate the potential value and impact of continuous improvement, consider this: Let’s say your business built an effective software product that addresses an important need and is selling well. Your revenue growth is healthy and therefore developers rest easy and adopt an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset.

In that time though, your competitors jump on the bandwagon and invest in their own software to improve its capabilities and deliver better customer value, finding ways to work faster and cheaper. While this prompts your business to react and innovate further, your processes are now lagging somewhat, meaning you struggle to innovate and find ways to offer that additional value for your customers quickly enough.

This is where continuous improvement comes in.

Implementing the continuous improvement model means you actively seek to increase the value of your software on an ongoing basis. For example, constantly gleaning user feedback means you can cut out unnecessary activities, and measures that help you actively reduce or avoid defects mean you reduce the number of support tickets further down the line.

The Four Key Pillars for Continuous Improvement

For businesses looking to implement the practice of continuous improvement for the first time, it’s a good idea to start with the following four basic principles:

1. Introduce Value Stream Mapping
Value stream mapping allows you to visualise your processes at an organisational level. Mapping out the flow of actions and information needed to create value for your customers helps to underpin your continuous improvement efforts as you can pinpoint and eradicate the parts of the process that don’t add value or improve the user experience. Once you’ve mapped your processes, this is where continuous improvement comes into play with value stream management that focuses on continuously optimising value streams to be as efficient, predictable, and reliable as possible.

2. Seek to Eliminate Waste
It’s important to pinpoint where wasteful activities or processes occur. Identifying and eradicating these inefficient, wasteful activities can allow you to improve your team’s efficacy and drive down costs. In the context of software development, whether it’s discrepancies relating to handoffs, Work in Process (WIP), overproduction, or having work items lying around without being worked on, it’s crucial to identify where you might have wasteful activities and build in better processes that actively optimise your resources.

3. Conduct Root Cause Analysis
When issues or defects occur, it’s important to find the real cause of the problem, rather than the symptoms. Getting to the bottom of a problem means asking why that problem exists, and why it occurred in the first place. Whatever the answer is, it’s important to continue asking why that is the case and continue questioning the status quo until you can eventually find the root cause, no matter how many ‘whys’ that requires.

4. Implement Value Stream Management
Initially developed through early lean management techniques, value stream management (VSM) is designed to improve the flow of work across production systems. Often used in knowledge-based work, implementing VSM enables you to streamline the workflow and materials of your development team, efficiently guiding team members throughout the production process. It is built around a range of processes:

  • Visualising/mapping workflows
  • Eradicating interruptions
  • Managing flow
  • Making process policies more explicit
  • Building in feedback loops
  • Collaborative improvement

The Importance of Maintaining Engagement

When it comes to the successful implementation of continuous improvement, it’s important to adopt some ongoing tactics to maintain momentum and buy-in.

Enabling team members to feel involved by getting ideas out in the open, perhaps via an ideas board or something similar, businesses should also set aside time for colleagues to collaborate on brainstorming and implementing new ideas.

However, while new ideas are great, it’s also crucial to remember that not every change will be an improvement. Measuring impact and viewing change at the start of an experiment is key, allowing teams to thoughtfully assess whether changes deliver an improvement or not.

Realistically, organisations will need access to a lot of data, collected across several different platforms to truly understand whether improvements are progressing. But having this data available and making it accessible is key, as many have found having these numbers and seeing the evidence of their successful improvements is addictive, helping teams to continue the momentum.


Jeff Keyes
VP of Product Marketing & Strategy at Plutora

Jeff Keyes has spent his career writing code, designing software features and UI, running dev and test teams, and consulting and evangelizing product messaging. Outside of 6 years at Microsoft, he has been primarily focused on growing startup companies.