Continuous improvement is a management process whereby business processes are constantly evaluated and improved in terms of their quality, efficiency and flexibility. The emphasis of continuous improvement is on small, incremental steps, rather than quantum leaps. Some successful implementations of continuous improvement use the approach known as Kaizen (which translates as ‘change for the better’). This approach assumes that employees are the best people to identify room for improvement, since they see the processes in action all the time. An organisation that uses this approach has, therefore, to have a culture that encourages and rewards employees for their contribution to the process. Continuous improvement can operate at an individual level, or through small teams (‘Kaizen Groups’ or ‘Quality Circles’).
Continuous improvement can be regarded as an experiential learning strategy because it encourages employees to reflect on the detail of their work, rather than just continuing with the same old practices regardless of their effectiveness.
Continuous improvement is:
- at its best when entered into voluntarily, supported by senior management, resulting in change;
- best avoided when just another form-filling exercise, not taken seriously by management.