As the name suggests, continuous improvement is a management philosophy that involves continually looking out for the need or opportunities to make small but effective changes to a process or work scenario, in order to better existing quality and efficiency. In other words, continuous improvement exists because it believes every business process has scope for improvement throughout its lifetime.
‘Quality’ here is defined in terms of timeliness (prompt delivery), completeness (meeting consumer requirements), courtesy (staff behavior with customers), consistency, product accessibility and convenience, accuracy, and responsiveness (reactions to unexpected or unusual customer requests). Continuous improvement is an umbrella term; kaizen is one of the several continuous improvement tools.
Continuous improvement could be carried out unsystematically, or in an organized manner courtesy Six Sigma, lean, kaizen, etc. Generally, a problem’s root cause is targeted and eliminated. Every step of a process is examined to ascertain the problem areas. The improvement plan entails the problem description and details pertaining to how to remedy the scenario. Constantly working on improvement is how businesses can decrease operating overheads.
The continuous improvement practice iterates that subpar work or inefficiency cannot always be directly attributed to the workers. The concept also helps uncover hidden issues and decide the fixes. At times, the production system is at fault, which the workforce cannot possibly rectify during work. Continuous improvement can be implemented in different industries or businesses, but a manufacturing firm is likely to benefit more.
Generally, continuous improvement is broken down into the following four stages.
- Assess/Identify: Conducting interviews and brainstorming sessions within the organization to identify particular problems and gather relevant data.
- Plan/Design: Determining remedies for the problems.
- Implement: Responsibility is assigned to every team member to carry out action-based tasks.
- Evaluate: The outcome is monitored to ascertain if the process alterations made have produced desired results. Variables such as cost per order, customer satisfaction, defects per batch, etc. are examined to evaluate the results.
Objectives and Benefits
- Constantly enhance the production system to improve productivity and quality, thereby decreasing costs. This improvement process never stops.
- Continuous improvement aims to eliminate mass-level product inspection by building a top-quality production system.
- Simplified procedures and processes. Improved services to recipients.
- Helping employees and the production equipment and tools perform better.
- Employees work as project teams, which helps foster better professional relationship and resolve work group conflicts.
- Inefficiency identification translates to money saved.
Continuous improvement has its benefits, but not every firm needs continuous improvement. The amount of time to be allotted to continuous improvement or making continuous improvement an aspect of an organization’s culture hinges on a company’s specific needs and future cost savings.