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What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous Improvement Overview

Continuous improvement (CI) is a methodology and a mindset.

As a methodology, it’s an umbrella term for many different frameworks: agile/scrum, kaizen, Kanban, Six Sigma, and many more. All of these frameworks focus on making small, incremental improvements to processes, products, services, and other areas of business. Instead of taking on huge renovation projects periodically, continuous improvement encourages an ongoing effort to streamline the business.

Read how CI plays a role in moving paper processes to digital.

Continuous improvement was first used in manufacturing processes to reduce waste and use ideas from everyone in the organization to improve product flow throughout a manufacturing plant. Over the last few decades, CI has been adopted by businesses outside the manufacturing space and can now be found in all kinds of businesses large and small around the world.

People and Processes

Continuous improvement looks at the intersection of people and processes in an organization. The “people” category includes customers as well as everyone on the team, from the CEO to the part-time interns. The “process” category encompasses anything related to how work moves through the organization.

I explain this concept in a recent continuous improvement overview video. Watch it here.

I generally have clients focus their “people” conversations on the voice of the customer (or VoC). So let’s picture two circles—one with the voice of the customer and one with processes.

1. Voice of the Customer

Voice of the customer (VoC) is what should drive everything businesses do: What products they create, how they serve clients, and all of the different pieces that go into what customers are willing to pay for. VoC is always evolving—people may look at your products differently today than they did last year or even last month.

2. Processes

The processes circle represents the internal activities that go into servicing your customers. For you to serve your customer, what steps do you go through? What flow does a product or service have through your organization before it gets to the customer?

Where the two circles overlap is where you're meeting customers’ needs. And where they don’t overlap is waste or missed opportunity. On the process side, the non-overlapping area is waste—the things that you are spending money and time on but that aren’t adding value. On the VoC side, the non-overlapping area is missed opportunities to serve your customers—all the things the customer wanted from you but you weren't able to provide.

As a mindset, CI is used by organizations and teams that are always on the lookout for better ways to work and serve customers. Successful CI efforts require buy-in from every level of an organization and must be deeply ingrained in the culture.

Continuous Improvement People and Processes

As you're thinking about your products, services, and customers, think in terms of those two simple circles and where they overlap. Continuous improvement is all about pushing those two circles closer together for more overlap so we meet more customer requirements and have less waste within our processes.

Continuous improvement is a BIG topic, but this is how we boil it down to something simple. Look for more posts about how we use CI for ourselves and clients. In the meantime, if you have questions, reach out!