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A business guide to the continuous improvement process

3-minute read

Conor Shilling

22 June 2022

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Continuous improvement is a model used by businesses or individuals to become more efficient. It uses self-reflection and feedback to drive change in processes that can save time or money.

How can your business practice continuous improvement? Read our guide for more information on the benefits, how to create a continuous improvement plan, and the best tools to use.

What is continuous improvement?

The continuous improvement definition is to reduce waste by streamlining processes. It’s used by businesses to save money and time, as well as take advantage of new opportunities.

Continuous improvement is often referred to as “Kaizen”, which translates to “good change” or “improvement” in Japanese.

The principles of continuous improvement are aligned to agile methodologies such as Kanban and the lean manufacturing process.

Continuous improvement can be used informally by employees to make changes to their daily processes. Larger companies are more likely to formalise continuous improvement by taking an agile approach.

The model is most commonly used by project managers, although the principles can be useful for any employee from junior staff members right up to the CEO.

What are the benefits of continuous improvement?

Using continuous improvement techniques has a range of advantages for individuals and businesses. Here’s an overview:

  • streamlined process can lead to increased productivity and ultimately lower costs
  • time saved from implementing continuous improvement can be used to explore new opportunities and grow the business
  • long, complicated projects can be improved while they’re ongoing. This can lead to better results than waiting to review the work once it’s completed
  • many of the ideas for improvement will come directly from employees. This is likely to cost a lot less than doing a research and development project or hiring a consultant
  • continuous improvement comes from the people regularly working on the processes they’re suggesting to change. As a result, the changes could be easier to implement and more effective
  • the model encourages ownership among all staff members and makes sure people are continually seeking to improve their own performance

How to create a continuous improvement plan

When creating a continuous improvement framework, you’ll need to focus on self-reflection, reducing inefficiencies, and taking gradual steps to improve.

One of the simplest ways to get started, either for the business, a particular project, or as an individual, is to use the continuous improvement cycle.

This is how it works:

  1. Identify opportunities for improvement in a workflow or task (such as meeting deadlines)
  2. Plan how the current process can be improved (for example using project management software)
  3. Make the suggested changes
  4. Review how the changes are working

You’ll need to repeat this process to keep improving and reducing all ineffective or inefficient processes.

Here are some other key steps to include in your plan:

  • set achievable targets and goals
  • create a strategy map to show how you can get to where you want to be
  • celebrate successes (no matter how small) as continuous improvement is all about taking gradual steps

Check in regularly on your continuous development plan

Having a continuous improvement plan helps people to be accountable for development, whether it’s for a specific product or on an individual basis.

Regularly going back to the plan means that good intentions don’t go out the window when a busy schedule gets in the way. A good comparison to make is when people give up on their new year’s resolutions after a few weeks.

Continuous improvement examples

Whether you’re looking to use continuous improvement to streamline a product or service, develop on a personal level, or improve something wider like business compliance or culture, there's a range of techniques you could include, such as:

  • ideation sessions – encourage staff to share their ideas on how to improve things. When people get together to discuss ideas, they can bounce off each other and produce better results
  • training – upskilling is all-important if you want to keep improving. Whether that’s taking external courses on topics in your field or levelling up on other parts of the business, keeping to a regular training schedule can be invaluable
  • time estimates – one of the key objectives of continuous improvement is saving time, so doing a regular time audit to see how long tasks are taking (and why) could help you identify ways to be more efficient
  • surveys – getting regular feedback is crucial to continuous improvement. If you’re looking to improve aspects of your business, surveying and polling your employees can give useful insights

Continuous improvement tools

There's a range of tools you can use to implement a continuous improvement model for your business.

One of the simplest is a project management tool called a Gantt chart. Read our in-depth guide on how to create a Gantt chart to get started.

You can also use project management software or use a continuous improvement plan template. Here are some examples of well-known tools businesses use to adopt Kaizen principles:

Do you have any unanswered questions about continuous business improvement? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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