What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement is a method to identify opportunities for streamlining work and reducing waste and variation in processes. This practice was made popular by LEAN and Six Sigma, which are used worldwide to find savings opportunities. Combining the methodologies of LEAN and Six Sigma yields impressive results.

Continuous improvement is like religion. It may seem simple, but leaders and teams that aren’t familiar with process improvement techniques will have trouble sustaining it. This mindset can only be implemented if you have a clear understanding of continuous improvement and the principles that you should follow.

What is Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement?
What is Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement?

The Continuous Improvement Model

Continuous improvement can seem very abstract, especially if it is not used in a specific context. It is the constant pursuit of perfection in all you do. Continuous improvement in LEAN management is also called Kaizen.

Kaizen was developed in Japan just after the Second World War ended. It became a hugely popular manufacturing tool and was one of the main pillars of Toyota’s rise to become the world’s largest automobile manufacturer.

Continuous improvement is a key concept in LEAN and Lean Six Sigma. It aims to continuously improve all processes within your company, focusing on activities that create the most value for customers and removing wasteful activities.

Core Principles of Continuous Improvement

Ideas from employees are valuable

Continuous improvement relies heavily on employees to find opportunities for improvement and not just top management. Because employees are closer to the problem and therefore better equipped to solve it, this bottom-up improvement model is highly effective.

Instead, ask your employees what improvements they can make to save 5 minutes per day. Next, empower them to implement the improvement and share it with everyone in the company. This allows you to take an idea from anyone and make a significant impact. Let’s say that you have ten employees and get one idea. Each employee saves five minutes each day. This is a total of ten ideas. You can share all ten ideas with one hundred employees to save fifty minutes per day (each idea x 5 minutes).

Minor changes are more important than major paradigm shifts and new inventions

Because significant organizational changes can feel scary and destabilizing, this concept is crucial. The continuous improvement model reduces fear and speeds up improvement by approaching change in small, incremental steps. This principle allows organizations to move forward without waiting for a major shift in strategy or new product releases.

It is worth looking into any idea that reduces waste, speeds up production, and allows employees to learn new skills. This approach also opens the possibility of small-scale improvements to processes that will allow employees to do their best work.

Incremental improvements are usually very affordable

Employees are more likely to make small, cost-effective changes. Employees are more likely to suggest ways to eliminate process steps than add them. This is a fantastic way to make sure that each activity adds value to the customer and reduces effort.

The CI model is a way for leaders to address employee grievances

They see them as opportunities to improve. It’s a positive thing when a member of the team notices something wrong and does something about it. The first step in the improvement process is gathering employee ideas. A culture for improvement takes it further. Employees are given a method to report and act on ideas that can save money, improve processes, and satisfy clients. They provide the structure and systems for employees to do so. And they reward those who make the organization better, one step at a time.

People are often told to not complain about things unless they are prepared to do something about them. It’s fair when they have something to do. Leaders who are good at leading people give them that chance.

Reflection is key to improvement

Continuous improvement is based on constant feedback. Open communication is essential for both the results and maintaining employee engagement during every stage of improvement.

This is not easy to do in an improving culture. The visibility that coaches need to keep up the pace with all those involved in the improvement process is not available. Senior leaders cannot engage without a considerable time commitment. Meetings are difficult to schedule, and communication becomes buried in inboxes.

Empowered employees take responsibility and participate in improvements

It is difficult to get people to modify the same way they have always done it. What makes it easier? Implementing changes that were initiated at the front lines. People are more likely to see the benefits of changes when they produce innovative ideas for improving their work. Knowing that their peers can make improvements inspires faith in the necessity for changes.

Approaches to Continuous Improvement

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a continuous improvement model that focuses on eliminating variability and increasing predictability within organizations. Six Sigma aims to produce predictable and stable process results through clearly defined and measured processes and a commitment to continuous quality improvement.

Six Sigma is a data-driven, disciplined approach to continuous improvement. Six Sigma is a system that uses quality management methods that are based on statistical analysis. It relies on an organization of experts who have been trained in these methods to help them succeed.

Six Sigma professionals must complete a series of certifications. These belts are identified by assorted colors, such as karate or Judo. Six Sigma is a system that ensures each role has a specific responsibility.

Six Sigma, with its certification programs and statistical tools, is a highly structured continuous improvement program that’s ideal for companies already structured in a corporate manner.


LEAN is a methodology focused on optimizing customer value, reducing waste, and increasing customer satisfaction. All types of businesses can benefit from the key elements of Lean.

LEAN not only reduces waste or improves a process but also builds a culture that respects all employees, allows them to seek opportunities to improve their work, and shares ideas for continuous improvement.

LEAN has three types of waste:

  • Muda – The seven wastes
  • Mura – The wastefulness of inequalities
  • Muri – The wasteful overburden


Muda is made up of seven major process wastes: inventory, motion, and transport.

Although it is difficult to eliminate all, focusing on the positive effects they have on your work is key to implementing continuous improvement.


Mura can be caused by inconsistency or unevenness in your processes. It is responsible in large part for the seven wastes of Muda. Mura prevents your tasks from flowing smoothly through your work process and thus hinders your ability to achieve a continuous flow.


Muri is a problem in companies that use push systems. You place too much stress on your team and your process by assigning too many tasks to them.

Muri is often a result of Mura. If you want continuous improvement to be a part of your culture, then you must focus on eliminating those wastes.

What is Waste?

LEAN defines “waste” as any product that does not add value. Manufacturing values are defined as any product that a customer is willing to pay for.

Waste is any cost that is not beneficial to the customer. Lean manufacturing is about eliminating waste from manufacturing processes.

The eight wastes of LEAN

  1. Transport.
  2. Inventory.
  3. Motion.
  4. Waiting.
  5. Overproduction.
  6. Overprocessing.
  7. Defects.
  8. Skills (Unused Employee Creativity).
What is Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement?
What is Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement?

Six Sigma’s Approach to Continuous Improvement

DMAIC is data-driven and takes care of every detail. This model provides comprehensive methods to improve any business function or process. This model can be applied to any industry or field. It is most well-known for its symbolic contributions and use in Six Sigma. The DMAIC method consists of five phases:

  1. Define The problem, improvement activity, opportunities for improvement, project goals, and customer (internal or external) requirements.
  2. Measure Process performance
  3. Analyze The process of determining root causes of variation or poor performance (defects).
  4. Improve Process performance by addressing the root causes.
  5. Control The improved process and future performance
What is Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement?
What is Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement?

The LEAN Roadmap to Continuous Improvement

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), also known as the Deming Cycle or the Shewhart Cycle, is a systematic four-step management method used for continuous improvement and problem-solving. Developed by Walter A. Shewhart and popularized by W. Edwards Deming, PDCA is a fundamental concept in quality management, process improvement, and overall organizational effectiveness.