Case study

Creating a business competitive edge through continuous improvement

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min(s).
Published on
2/9/2021
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Matthew Magat
Continuous Improvement Lead Oceania Region at Xylem Water Solutions Australia Limited

Matthew Magat, Continuous Improvement Lead at Xylem Water Solutions, explains how to gain a business competitive edge through continuous improvement using 8 problem-solving steps. Find out how you can apply those steps to your biggest business challenges.

The challenge: improve overall efficiency in teamwork

Although the pandemic has by no means been easy, it has given us all a rare opportunity to rethink the way we work, our processes, rituals and our approach to design on an almost daily basis. But how can we make sure our teamwork is effective; how can we ensure incremental improvements that will contribute to more significant breakthroughs; and what part does continuous improvement play?

Let’s start by considering continuous improvement (CI). What are the benefits of continuous improvement and why are organizations now placing a greater emphasis on it? Matthew Magat, Continuous Improvement Lead at Xylem Water Solutions has long been an advocate for CI, having carried out workshops and training on the subject for some time now.

According to Magat, continuous improvement can help reduce your process waste and simplify the way you work. Done well, he points out that CI can improve the quality of your products, decrease costs, improve customer satisfaction, as well as increase efficiency, productivity and employee satisfaction. You could be forgiven for thinking that it sounds too good to be true! 

In practice, it is a way to identify problems, understand how those problems impact stakeholders, and then brainstorm solutions that will help transform the project in question.

The solution: a data-first approach

To get a clear picture of the value of continuous improvement projects, it’s necessary to validate everything with data – a rule of thumb that also applies to teamwork and performance. In practice, Magat points out that this requires your workshops and meetings to be structured enough to extract the relevant data. Only by understanding the real problem can you focus on the right data, so having a process in place for carrying out root cause analysis for example, can be really useful.

Magat defines the 8 problem solving steps in continuous improvement as follows:

  1. Clarify your problem, but make it SMART. Think about your performance measure and compare your current situation with your ideal situation.
  2. Break down the problem into all its aspects.
  3. Set your target SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound).
  4. Carry out root cause analysis.
  5. Develop countermeasures. I.e., all ideas that the group thinks would resolve the problem, and then evaluate which ones should be prioritized.
  6. See your countermeasures through (prepare timelines and schedules).
  7. Monitor results and process.
  8. Standardize and communicate with the team.

By building these steps into your projects and making them a regular part of your teamwork ethos, you’ll start to see notable improvements.

The result: a plan easy to carry out with Klaxoon

Since the start of the pandemic, organizations have had to move their teamwork online, with fully remote working becoming the accepted norm. Xylem, like many other organizations has had to find tools to help them bring people into the room virtually and Klaxoon has led the way.

Magat admits that in pre-Covid times, his workshops were almost entirely face to face, but he’s now a convert to the virtual way of working – and not just through necessity. With Klaxoon, it is possible to brainstorm using the whiteboard in much the same way as you would in a physical room, but with the advantage that sticky it notes don’t fall down!  Furthermore, you can share your Board online, and being able to work asynchronously is of enormous benefit.

Of course, there are some concerns around screen time, but Magat points out that this can be mitigated by scheduling workshops over multiple dates and the workshops tend to be more effective overall, because participants are really engaged

A person working remotely on a SMART Goals template, while syncing up with her team of 3 through videoconference at the same time. | Klaxoon
Right from the start of the process, the visual features of Board can be a precious asset for efficient teamwork.

The Klaxoon way of working also makes it easier to scale – there’s no travel required, anyone can join or view the outputs of the meeting and you can create different types of workshops using the templates provided, all from the comfort of your own home. Magat uses some of the already available continuous improvement templates, but he also creates and tailors his own. He likes the fact he can share graphs and keep the analysis all in one place. But better still, is the stream of ideas that Klaxoon encourages because it's so engaging for participants. With Klaxoon, everyone has a voice and is able to actively share their views.

If you are not already using Klaxoon, you might be wondering whether it is difficult to get started, but the overwhelming majority of users agree that it’s actually pretty simple to get to grips with. For Magat, it took him about a week to prepare for his first workshop using the new tools, but now he saves a significant amount of time since he can re-use and re-purpose the Boards he has already created. 

Of course, nothing in life stands still, and it looks likely that a new hybrid way of working will define the next few years. So, will Xylem and Magat continue to use Klaxoon in the future? Magat concedes this is very likely, even if there is a return to face-to-face meetings, because Klaxoon makes it so easy to share and store information in a way that keep teams engaged and motivated to perform.

Magat points out that clarifying the problem is usually the hardest part of any continuous improvement process, but ensuring key stakeholders are engaged and participating in the process, whether they are customers or employees, gives you a much higher chance of reaching a successful outcome.

Matthew Magat: "Having this Board makes it easier to share information." | Klaxoon

For people just starting out with continuous improvement, Magat has this advice: always remember that it is about understanding people, the business you are working with and the voice of the employee and customer. Carry out your brainstorming, make sure you know what the pain points are, and then validate, validate, validate. If you can do that, you can be confident that your solutions will meet the needs of your key stakeholders and the improvements you make can be quantified.

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