6.5.1 What is Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement (CI) is a management philosophy based on employees’ suggestions.1 It was developed in the United States at the end of 19th century although some of the most important improvements took place when this philosophy arrived in Japan.2

Continuous Improvement, also known as Kaizen, is a policy of constantly introducing small incremental changes in a business in order to improve quality and/or efficiency. This approach assumes that employees are the best people to identify room for improvement, since they see the processes in action all the time. A firm that uses this approach therefore has to have a culture that encourages and rewards employees for their contribution to the process3.

In the following figure you can see some of the essential factors affecting continuous improvement.

Fig. 1. Factors affecting Continuous Improvement.4

By continually reviewing these areas, change can be managed effectively and continuous improvement becomes a natural part of the business process. It creates steady growth and development by keeping the business focused on its aims, priorities and performance. The continuous improvement process has been shown to bring significant benefits to all types of organisations in a variety of sectors.5

Please stop and think: in your working environment, is this philosophy known and practiced?

1 For further information about internal proposals you can go to module 4.6 of this guide
2 http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/62/04717548/0471754862.pdf
3 http://tutor2u.net/business/production/kaizen-quality-circles-continuous-improvement.html  
4 www.constructingexcellence.org.uk/resources/themes/internal/improvement.jsp
5 lbid