Continuous improvement is the ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. Workplaces as a whole, from the CEO down to workers on the frontline, adopt a focus on improving the way things are done on a regular basis, knowing there is always room for improvement. Applying this mindset can help the facility operate more efficiently and employees work more productively, while improving the quality of products or services. Over time, businesses practicing continuous improvement will gain a competitive edge and when done correctly, will maintain that advantage in their industry.
An important and helpful tool used to facilitate continuous improvement is the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) process. The cyclical nature of this process allows managers, employees, supervisors, or teams to implement improvement strategies successfully. Essentially, the PDCA model begins with identifying an opportunity for improvement or an issue that needs to be addressed and developing a solution. That solution is then implemented on a small scale and after some time, it is checked to determine whether or not it was successful. Depending on results, it is decided whether the change should be implemented across departments or if it needs to be reworked. Either way, the cycle begins again with the planning phase.
Continuous improvement may not be entirely synonymous with Kaizen, but it is the founding principle. Kaizen is a strategy focused on making changes that may be seen as small and incremental but are extremely impactful in the long run. Carried out through daily Kaizen or Kaizen events, frontline workers are seen as the source for improvement ideas. Because those working on the floor are directly impacted by problems, they are able to more easily identify where improvements can be made.
Other tools and methods that promote the continuous improvement mindset include total productive maintenance, value stream mapping, Lean manufacturing, and 5S. Organizations often utilize a number of strategies to meet their specific needs, creating a continuous improvement program that will benefit them far into the future.