How to gain an operational advantage by building a continuous feedback loop

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How to gain an operational advantage by building a continuous feedback loop
By putting these mechanisms in place, organisations can ensure that everyone has access to important data.
Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

If COVID-19 has taught businesses anything, it’s that they must remain agile in the face of rapidly changing circumstances.

Fast access to critical data has been incredibly important over the course of the pandemic, as all employees – from senior leadership to front-line workers – have been required to stay vigilant and respond to any health-related safety precautions or concerns that arise. While additional resources may play a role in keeping up with a quick cycle of information and action, another significant factor is changing the way we as organisations work.

A seamless flow of data across teams is what allows businesses to operate with agility. The way organisations achieve this still needs work. According to a recent study from Statista, organisations – on average – use over three different communication tools for organisational collaboration. These are often consumer platforms such as WhatsApp or Telegram, with different teams using different methods and modes of collaboration.

This inevitably creates silos of information across multiple departments and teams, inhibiting their ability to quickly highlight operational issues or glean important insights from communication data. 

This ineffective and unproductive mode of communication is unnecessary and relatively simple to fix. Instead of operating as a series of independent teams, organisations should develop proactive systems that encourage clear visibility of operational data, fostering a culture of continuous feedback.

In our line of work, we’ve helped companies increase and better their outputs quickly, more reliably and of course, safely. In doing so, we’ve found that developing a continuous feedback loop is the best way an organisation can scale — and it all comes down to technology that challenges teams to continually improve how they work.

What is a continuous feedback loop?

A continuous feedback loop is a best practice system of communicative processes that instils a culture of circulatory knowledge, learning and engagement between employees and key stakeholders. It ensures all important information is constantly circulating throughout the organisation, reaching exactly the right hands at exactly the right time so teams can make decisions that better a business.

This is where technology comes into play, facilitating a system where teams have visibility over all elements of business operations, fostering a unique ability to manage operational hiccups before they occur.

Ultimately, a continuous feedback loop encompasses four operational elements, including

  1. Manage – routinely set up and manage teams, outlining objectives, permissions and workflow, outlining the roles of all employees and forging clear lines of communication.

  2. Plan – set and connect schedules for different teams and departments and ensure everyone is across each other’s roles and duties.

  3. Act – carry out inspections, identify issues, near-misses and corrective actions.

  4. Improve – use the data from these actions to institute analytics and discover trends in order to continuously learn and improve as time goes by.

These four steps are all interlinked, feeding into each other on an ongoing basis, ensuring teams are always confident, motivated and aligned.

From a leadership perspective, management is equipped with more timely intelligence to allow for better decision-making. With data consolidated and a feedback loop in place, they can act with certainty. Additionally, the more this cycle repeats, the more the organisation improves.

What does a good continuous feedback loop look like?

Picture this. A freezer at a food storage facility is malfunctioning, with thousands of dollars’ worth of produce at risk of spoiling.

Without a continuous feedback loop, a frontline worker notices the freezer is malfunctioning but without an easy way to document the error and alert stakeholders, they get caught up with their work and forget about it. The next day, the freezer has completely broken, and the food is lost.

With a continuous feedback loop, the frontline worker is notified automatically about the issue in real time via the freezer’s temperature sensors. They then use their ruggedised tablet device to raise the issue with their line manager, sending a report with images attached. The line manager can raise the issue with maintenance and technical staff, or call a registered emergency contractor, to assess the freezer and promptly fix the issue within a few hours. If food is at risk of spoiling in that time, frontline staff are sent an alert instructing them to move the produce to another freezer.

The incident is then logged in a company database, where repair teams can observe what went wrong and flag whether a long-term solution is required.

How to get started

A key part of initiating a continuous feedback loop is ensuring that all operational data is consolidated into one platform or ‘single source of truth’. This will allow easy cross-communication between departments and a high degree of visibility over anything that needs to be actioned.

The consolidation effort includes connecting three key parts of operational data including planned data, ad-hoc data, and continuous data.

Firstly, planned data incorporates proactive efforts like digital checklists to measure compliance and safety standards. The next type - ad-hoc data - involves arming frontline workers with the ability to capture ad-hoc incident data and escalate with appropriate team members if necessary.

Lastly, continuous data involves capturing continuous streams of data from equipment sensors that provide a baseline for normal use. This third type is important, as if anything falls out of this baseline, automatic alerts can be provided to employees to action issues.

By putting these mechanisms in place, organisations can ensure that everyone has access to important data, and nothing is missed.

Alongside a continuous feedback loop, front-line workers will have a clear perspective of expectations, while also feeling like their voices are being heard.

This helps to foster a unique culture of productivity and engagement, which reverberates through the business and ultimately drives competitive advantage. 

James Simpson is Chief Technology Officer, SafetyCulture.

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