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What Is Continuous Improvement?


Continuous improvement, or Kaizen, is a method for identifying opportunities for streamlining work and reducing waste. The practice was formalized by the popularity of Lean / Agile / Kaizen in manufacturing and business, and it is now being used by thousands of companies all over the world to identify savings opportunities. Many of these ideologies can be combined for excellent results. For example, Kaizen and Kanban can go hand-in-hand to facilitate continuous improvement.

While continuous improvement can be practiced without a formal version of a Lean and Agile method, the right tool for the enterprise integrates continuous improvement in an automated, scalable solution.

Kaizen: A Flexible Process

Continuous improvement can be viewed as a formal practice or an informal set of guidelines. Many companies have shifted focus to more formal approaches to project and process management such as Lean / Agile methodologies (Kanban, Kaizen, Scrum, XP).

For example, Kaizen and Kanban can be integrated to allow for continuous improvement through visualization of workflow. In all Lean / Agile methodologies, continuous improvement is a primary focus, in addition to high customer service standards and the reduction of waste in the forms of cost, time and defects (rework).

Benefits of Continuous Improvement

Streamline workflows

Working to constantly improve is the number one way in which many businesses reduce operating overhead. Continuous improvement (sometimes known as “rapid improvement”) is a Lean improvement technique that helps to streamline workflows.

The Lean way of working enables efficient workflows that save time and money, allowing you to reduce wasted time and effort. For example, projects that involve shifting deadlines, changing priorities and other complexities are usually filled with opportunities to improve. It’s just that no one has acted on that opportunity.

Reduce project costs and prevent overages

It’s important for a project manager to know the cost of completing a body of work. For this reason, most project management offices benefit from knowing the amount of time it takes to get certain types of work done. Project managers can reduce project cost and prevent overages using Forecasting Software. Forecasting (versus estimating) whether a project’s constraints are likely to be broken is one way in which project management offices can increase their overall effectiveness for the company.

When to Use Continuous Improvement

Sacrificing quality can rarely be justified by the ability to do something faster or cheaper. To maintain quality standards while cutting time and cost, companies turn to Lean ways of working, including continuous improvement.

By observing continuous improvement best practices, companies can figure out ways to continue business as usual while analyzing improvement opportunities along the way.

For companies whose teams are unable to practice continuous improvement throughout their day-to-day work, the next best way to leverage the concept is to hold continuous improvement events, otherwise known as Rapid Improvement events or Value Stream Mapping.

Continuous Improvement events can take anywhere between one to five days to complete, depending on the depth and breadth of the topic to be covered, and team members usually come away with “to-do” items that help the new processes take hold within the organization and may require a small amount of time to execute.

Many companies have adopted Lean improvement techniques as a standard by which all projects and work are done. Continuous improvement helps companies save money by identifying inefficiencies in project teams with many layers of management or manufacturing teams whose motions equate to money. Whether or not a company chooses to make continuous improvement part of its everyday culture depends on organizational attachment to the potential cost savings that may occur as a result.