Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A JOINT VENTURE WITH BDC Insight: Continuous improvement

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In a competitive world, excellence is more than an buzzword. It is essential for any business today, says Dwayne Dulmage, vice-president of financing and consulting for the Business Development Bank of Canada.

"Every company wants to innovate and find ways to become more productive" he says. "Peak operational efficiency occurs when the right combination of people, processes and technology come together to optimize business performance."

In the case of the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company, hiring a master brewer from Japan resulted in the creation of a higher-quality product.

"Producing better when you are involved in the food and beverage industry may, in part, involve the intellectual property of someone who is very experienced," Dulmage says, "and this is an interesting example of internalizing expertise as a means to pursuing operational excellence."

He notes that for any business, the primary goals of any improvements are to increase the productivity and competitiveness of the business, grow the company and boost its market value.

Achieving excellence comes with a number of challenges. The first is to recognize the need for change.

"Many entrepreneurs, particularly those who are very creative, are somewhat proprietary about what they do and have done successfully for a number of years. They have trouble stepping back and recognizing what they don't know and accepting that they may need help."

But if they are open to change, the possibility of continuous improvement can make a huge difference both to business practices and to everyone involved in the company.

"Operational excellence is an inclusive culture that can feed on itself, a vision for the company that empowers everybody in it," Dulmage says. "The improvements become self-fulfilling. They come from within and people will constantly look at operations from an innovative mindset. When you have a healthy culture of continuous improvement, employers are constantly getting advice from employees."

In general, small steps may be more effective than attempts at sudden transformation, he says, although "a big bang" approach can work for companies that have neglected the need to change or for those faced with rapidly changing market conditions.

"The incremental approach to continuous improvement works best in most cases," says Dulmage. For example, small changes in the production line or updating management information systems can make a major difference to the efficiency of a company's operations.

"You don't have to do everything at once but you do have to improve continuously. Operational excellence is no longer a concept to consider abstractly. It is a necessity and businesses that delay embracing it do so at their own peril."

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 B5

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