A continuous improvement strategy starts with a commitment to being better than ever. Make ongoing change by starting small.

Continuous improvement is a commitment to ongoing change. This concept of constant incremental change allows organizations to refine their processes, products, and services frequently. Taken from agile methodology, the continuous improvement model lets organizations take a gradual approach to change management.

continuous improvement

In this article, we explore the path to continuous improvement in the following topics:

  • Change as a Concept
  • The Principles of Incremental Improvement
  • Applications of Continuous Improvement
  • Why Continuous Improvement Works

Change as a Concept

Continuous improvement considers change as a concept. This concept centers on the desire to grow in every way and at every opportunity. Lean methodology approaches continuous improvement as a way to enhance value while changing for the better. 

This model alleviates the fear factor commonly associated with change, allowing team members to embrace change as rapidly as possible. This approach to continuous improvement accelerates the steps toward change by mitigating the factors that lead to wasted time, energy, and resources. 

Kaizen is at the heart of the continuous improvement model. Kaizen refers to continuously improving each process in your company by enhancing the products and processes that generate the most value for your team and customers, all while reducing waste activities as much as possible. 

In Lean methodology, there are three kinds of waste:

1.Muda: The seven wastes

  Muda refers to activities and processes that don’t add value, such as:

  • Defects
  • Waiting
  • Motion
  • Inventory
  • Overproduction
  • Reprocessing
  • Transportation

2.Mura: The waste of unevenness

Mura refers to unevenness in production or process. This type of waste causes an imbalance in the allocation of people or materials. Mura waste is described as:

  • Bumpy
  • Spiky
  • Up & Down
  • Stop & Start
  • Lumpy
  • Unequal
  • Peaks & Valley
  • Unlevel

This level of imbalance can cause stress, fatigue, accidents, and breakdowns.

3. Muri- The waste of overburden

Muri occurs when people and machines are overburdened with expectations and work, causing stress and fatigue as they are pushed beyond their natural limits. This overburdening will lead to defects, breakdowns, and wasted products and materials. 

By applying continuous improvement to your change management process, you’ll be able to reduce the effects of muda, mura, and muri.

continuous improvement

The Principles of Incremental Improvement

Continuous improvement allows for the most effective and positive continuous change. Begin making these incremental shifts by following the six principles of continuous improvement

Principle 1: Improvements Come From Small Changes

In the continuous improvement model, small changes are preferable as they lead to greater paradigm shifts. This concept allows for the most significant changes by approaching transitions incrementally.

Following this principle allows organizations to progress toward greater change strategically. When put into practice, this principle helps to amplify ideas that eliminate waste.

Principle 2: Employee Ideas Are Valuable

The continuous improvement model relies on employee involvement to identify the best opportunities for evolution. Known as bottom-up improvement, this concept is effective as it considers the reality that employees are always the closest ones to the most pressing problems, making them the best equipped to solve them.

With this principle in mind, organizations should engage their employees as much as possible in their change management strategy. Consider involving employees in small day-to-day improvements by asking them to think of one idea that can save five minutes a day. This small action will empower your team to drive a larger impact through the entire organization. With each team member’s time-saving ideas, you’ll be able to eliminate waste on a larger scale.

Get Our Risks/Rewards of Change

This template helps your team consider both the risk and the rewards of choosing to make a change or choosing to keep the status quo.

Risks/Rewards of Change

Principle 3: Incremental Improvements Are Typically Inexpensive to Implement

A common barrier to continuous improvement is the cost related to making large-scale changes. This principle addresses such costs by exploring ways to achieve incremental change without incurring significant expenses. 

This principle asserts that the most significant changes involve eliminating unnecessary steps in one’s process. With a focus on refining the process, organizations can effectively reduce wasted effort and unnecessary expenses.

Principle 4. Employees Take Ownership in the Continuous Improvement Process

As employees become more engaged in your continuous improvement strategy, taking ownership of the process empowers them to lead the change. By sharing authorship in the process, team members can identify areas for improvement, follow through in the implementation of ideas, see measurable impacts of their work, and take credit for their contributions. 

With increased employee engagement in the continuous improvement model, leaders actively create buy-in from their team, which in turn increases their investment in the outcome of these change initiatives. 

Principle 5: Improvement is Reflective

Continuous improvement relies on constant feedback from all stakeholders in an organization. In all phases of the 

continuous improvement model, team members and leaders should practice open communication. Traditional improvement culture often misses the mark in obtaining regular feedback, resulting in decisions and changes that are out of touch with what employees want.

Take a reflective approach to improvement by encouraging team collaboration and employee visibility. Creating a culture of reflection gives team leaders and coaches the chance to evaluate the team’s performance regularly. Moreover, leaders will take the time to frequently request feedback from others and use this information to refine their continuous improvement strategy. 

Principle 6: Improvement is Measurable and Potentially Repeatable

Continuous improvement understands that lasting change must be measurable. The ability to measure change determines if the change can be applied to other problems. Additionally, positive ROI is proof of a sound continuous improvement strategy. 

In measuring improvement, consider key performance indicators such as cost savings, time to market, revenue, collections, safety incidents, customer satisfaction, and the like.

continuous improvement

Applications of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is an effective change management model as it helps organizations identify the best opportunities to reduce waste and accelerate growth. This methodology highlights the best strategy for consistent change. 

The following are three of the most effective models to achieve continuous improvement:

1.Plan-Do-Check-Act

The Plan-Do-Check-Act model is one of the more popular approaches to continuous improvement. This four-step model is used in change management and is a repeatable cycle for continuous change. This model incorporates the Deming Circle, a never-ending cycle that interprets past results to help facilitate future improvements.

In applying the PDCA model, consider the following steps:

  • Plan
    • Identify your problems
  • Do
    • Test potential solutions
  • Check
    • Study results
  • Act
    • Implement the best solutions 

2. Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis helps facilitate Kaizen by highlighting the root cause of your problems. This iterative practice zeroes in on a problem by determining the causes behind it. One can only complete the Root Cause Analysis if the final negative effect is identified and can be prevented once the cause is removed. 

3. Applying Lean Kanban

A lack of visibility makes it harder to identify problems until it’s too late. Lean Kanban allows organizations to visualize the next steps of continuous improvement.

The Kanban system helps leaders improve workflow efficiency by using six core practices to reduce waste:

  1. Visualize your workflow
  2. Limit interruptions and work-in-progress
  3. Manage flow
  4. Make process policies explicit
  5. Create feedback loops
  6. Evolve experimentally and improve collaboratively

Why Continuous Improvement Works

True continuous improvement methodology is powered by a culture of continual change. Making the shift from a standard change management mindset to one that advocates for the best possibilities for continuous change has numerous applications.

Get Our Change Guide

To make way for change, it’s essential to identify the “why” behind your desire for it. If so, it’s unlikely to last. Is your change aligned with shared values? Does it project a line of sight in a direction you want to head? That’s a promising start.

Change Guide

Continuous improvement stands to benefit your business in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Increasing Employee Loyalty

With the continuous improvement model, employees are encouraged to engage as much as possible. These actively engaged employees care more about their work and feel a renewed sense of commitment to the organization. Moreover, a focus on continual change encourages staff members to freely share their ideas and feedback as they know their suggestions play a critical role in shaping the organization for the better.

  • Improving Customer Service

A desire to grow consistently has incredible benefits for customer service. By approaching continuous improvement with the end-user in mind, organizations can strive to deliver even better value for their customers every step of the way. This method provides an ideal framework to anticipate customers’ needs and minimize waste in the process of delivering the most value.

  • Creating a Culture of Learning 

Incorporating a desire to focus on continuous change drives a culture of learning. As team members and leaders work on perfecting their processes and practicing each day, they will be more inclined to seek out new ideas, technology, and resources to accomplish even more. This desire for continuous improvement benefits an organization on every level as each stakeholder seeks to find new ways of working. 

Committing to transformation changes everything. Voltage Control can help you and your team define the best path for your organization’s continuous improvement. Contact us to learn more about incremental change. 

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