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The four pillars and the continuous improvement process (PDCA)

Analysing and identifying opportunities for product improvement by using the four key pillars of continuous improvement.

The four pillars of continuous improvement

As a product manager, you will need to first analyse and identify opportunities for product improvement by using the four key pillars of continuous improvement. [1]

Graphics shows a house-like structure. It shows the four pillars of CI. The roof is labelled continuous improvement. The four pillars are labelled customer centricity; product quality; process efficiency; and business profitability. The foundation is labelled company culture.

The four pillars of continuous improvement (2021)

The four pillars include the following:

  1. Customer centricity: Customer-centricity is about situating the customer and their success at the heart of a business. For example, a product manager could set up ‘listening posts’ on various channels (i.e. social media, sales) that would help them gather information about customer’s wants, needs, concerns, and buying behaviours.
  2. Product quality: It is always better to have a product that offers a few integral features, offering a good quality customer experience, as opposed to having multiple features with issues. A product that has a lot of issues affects customer satisfaction as well as increasing production costs to solve issues.
  3. Process efficiency: It is essential that the right tools, systems, and processes are in place to ensure that customer feedback is gathered efficiently, so a product manager can swiftly converge information, prioritise issues, and make decisions to improve areas.
  4. Business profitability: A product manager needs to be focussed not only on customer satisfaction but business profitability. They need to constantly monitor business metrics (e.g. sales revenues) to find areas that they can improve to ensure profitability without compromising product quality and customer happiness.

These four pillars should underpin four concepts for it to be successful: [2]

PILLARS UNDERLYING CONCEPTS
1. Customer centricity
2. Product quality
3. Process efficiency
4. Business profitability
Employee engagement: you need to ensure team buy-in, and that ideas for improvement also come from employees.
Incremental change: improvements and changes should be minor in scope and not complicated to implement.
Continuous feedback: once feedback has been integrated, it needs to be monitored and more improvements made (dynamic).
Measurable results: goals should be measurable to indicate value so that it can be further implemented throughout a business.

Once you have identified your product improvement opportunity using the four pillars of continuous improvement, you can then use the continuous improvement process to create your product improvement plan.

The continuous improvement process

The continuous improvement process consists of a four-step process: plan, do, check, act (PDCA). [3]

Graphic shows the PDCA cycle. The cycle involves plan, do, check, and act. In the middle of the cycle is continuous improvement.

Continuous improvement process (2021)

  • Plan: Product managers should conduct market research, analyse data, and/or develop an improvement idea with the team for the product.
  • Do: The product development team carries out tasks to build a working product or feature that gets tested and feedback on it will be collected.
  • Check: Customers have the opportunity to use the product or feature and provide feedback. Any feedback that suggests significant rework is required must be evaluated by the product manager. If the rework becomes a requirement, the product team moves back to the plan step.
  • Act: The product team goes ahead with the adjustments to the product or feature and then pushes it to customers. Once launched, the process starts again. The product manager and product team look for opportunities to improve and carry out the same process.

For continuous improvement to be successful in a business, it’s important to get everyone’s buy-in and adopt a continuous improvement mindset. To help a team build a continuous improvement mindset, get them to:

  • generate and share ideas
  • identify and highlight problems, no matter how small
  • review progress
  • embrace change.

To further understand how continuous improvement is implemented effectively, let’s engage in an exercise on how Atlassian implements continuous improvement practises.

References

  1. Somisetty M. ‘Continuous Improvement is pivotal for product innovation’; Medium; 2017. Available from: https://blog.woises.com/continuous-improvement-is-pivotal-for-product-innovation-f8dc1c5bda7d
  2. Graphic Products. Continuous Improvement. 2021. Available from https://www.graphicproducts.com/articles/continuous-improvement/
  3. ProductPlan, ‘Continuous Improvement. Definition and Overview’; 2021. Available from: https://www.productplan.com/glossary/continuous-improvement/
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