Continuous Process Improvement (CPI), what is it and why should you care?
Aside from what can be gleaned from it’s super-sexy namesake, the term CPI is probably fairly foreign to those outside of the Supply Chain field. In everyday life though, I’d like to think most folks practice some facets of CPI in their normal routine. Look back into your own habits, actions or activities from the past, can you pinpoint something you tried and it turned out right, correct and perfect the first time? Balancing your checkbook? Creating a recipe? Riding a bike? Studying for that big exam?
CPI, at a personal level is embedded in the learning process. Activities that a person engages in, specifically repetitive activities seem to get easier over time. This is most likely explained by trial and error, persistence and experience; building on what works and abandoning what did not. I watched my daughter teach herself how to bake, it took quite a few batches of cookies until she nailed a consistent recipe for success, now she sells her cookies for $.25 a piece at her high school, go figure. Other activities can have more direct learning curves, such as riding a bike. Falling down hurts, and pain happens to be a pretty powerful and effective teacher, the rider learns quick what works and what does not. Jumping forward a little bit, the cues and challenges of activities will evolve over time. Once the rider masters the ‘survival skills’ to prevent skinned knees, he is off to work on curb-hopping and skids.
Again I pose, why should you care? This seems so obvious.
In the business world there can tend to be a certain level of stagnation of progress in many fields, particularly repetitive plug-and-chug type disciplines. Operations, Manufacturing, Accounting, even some portions of the Product Development Cycle can tend to follow a prescribed routine that has been trained in, passed down and maintained across organizations and across disciplines. New Product Design tends to be exciting and innovative, think iPhone, think Corvette, but after the initial ‘wow’ of the concept, Engineers skilled in the trade work to grind that concept into a commercially viable product. We Engineers have learned how not to skin our knees, but taking it to the next level is the key to increasing the company’s value.
CPI was born in manufacturing as a method to identify and measure steps in the process, so that logical decisions on those steps could be made to make the whole system work better. Why not use CPI concepts in the Product Design Cycle, where they fit, before products hit the manufacturing line?