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Getting better all the time

How do you go about improving the way you do things? Lots of small changes or the occasional big overhaul?

By James Evelegh

Getting better all the time

How many small improvements have you made this month?

Or are you channelling all your development resources into a major relaunch or a game-changing new feature?

I’ve lately become a convert to the idea of steady incremental change. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for the biggie, but that a programme of continual improvement should be quietly bubbling away in the background, month in, month out.

If you work on the assumptions that, firstly, your overall strategic direction is right but, secondly, you’re not practically perfect in every way, then there are bound to be myriad small improvements and tweaks you can make that will move you ever closer to your strategic goal and improve the way you do things.

None of these improvements will justify a fanfare or even a press release. At the end of the year, you’ll probably struggle to remember what some of them were, but the cumulative effect will be considerable.

Working in an environment where things are continually getting better is energising. Staff feel they are being listened to as the little niggles they face are sorted and key performance indicators for your business move in a steady upward trajectory.

So far this year at InPublishing, we have made a whole host of small changes: we’ve installed Google Optimise to enable A/B testing of website changes (goal: facilitate the roll out of changes), extended the depth of our home page (goal: increase dwell time), change the way our homepage templates work so that new ‘news’ flows directly into them (goal: improve timeliness of reporting), improved field labelling on our article input pages (goal: avoid inputter confusion), increased the number of input fields that are pre-populated (goal: save time by reducing the number of repetitive tasks), tightened the criteria for our ‘related articles’ section (goal: increase ‘pages / visit’) and added an extra field to a key monthly report (goal: avoid the need to make manual adjustments to the report).

As you can see, nothing earth shattering, but each a step forward.

Some of those changes have been stuck on a mental wish-list for longer than I would care to admit. So how you do you go about systematising a programme of steady incremental improvement?

Keep it simple; set up a ‘suggestions box’ where people are encouraged to contribute regularly, along the lines of:

  • one change that would make my job easier
  • one change that would improve brand performance

Someone then needs to be responsible for reviewing and vetting the suggestions and feeding the jobs through to the development team.

Because each of these in themselves is unlikely to be a major project, development teams can often slot them in quite easily in-between other work. The reality is that developers can work on more than one thing at once, so both big and small projects can progress simultaneously. Indeed, when a developer is knee deep in a major bit of recoding, the smaller jobs can come as light relief.

Ultimately, lots of little wins add up to one big win. Onwards and upwards.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.