What is Continuous Improvement – 4 Points you have to know.

What is Continuous Improvement and 4 Points you have to know to create a Continuous Improvement Culture.

The 4 requirements to create a Continuous Improvement Culture.

Continuous Improvement is changing for the better.

Do the work, Be the change!

It means new ideas are generated, tested, refined, and implemented by everyone, every day, everywhere.

To create a Continuous Improvement Culture, you need:

1) WILL – You have to believe that good enough never is. You need to foster an environment of curiosity … Why? Why not? What if?

2) SKILL – It is about development, and it takes time and effort

3) AUTHORITY – Truly authorize everyone to make improvements. You’re engaged because you feel empowered to drive change.

4) GUIDANCE – It is about boundaries, learning, and development.

Why Continuous Improvement is Important.

As Simon Sinek says in the famous video “Start with Why“, it is crucial to understand the reason for the continuous improvement culture to have all the employees engaged in this journey.


From the company standpoint is important to implement continuous improvement because a company has constantly to make things better.

If we focus on Lean Thinking, a company should continuously remove the seven wastes from its processes to reduce costs and increase profits.

That’s it!

From the manager’s point of view to embrace the continuous improvement culture is really not an option to survive in a long term vision.


let us pass to the employees.

The continuous improvement culture is based on people’s engagement and empowerment.

So, if correctly implemented, this way of improvement should really create a better work atmosphere where people are really committed to improving the processes having personal benefits.

I think that every employee would like to have a clean workplace, achievable daily target, time to think new solutions, apprisal for the work done and tangible rewards.

Is not it?


The customer.

By the continuous improvement culture, the company will delight the customer with:

  • Lower prices
  • High quality
  • Engaged people


at the end of the day, there is no reason why continuous improvement should not be implemented in any company.

Benefits for all!

If correctly implemented.

Continuous Improvement Definition

What is Continuous Improvement?

Well, I would like to explain this concept by analyzing the 2 words separately and then mix them up.

Let us start with “Continuous”.

Continuous means that has to be done now and forever. You cannot imagine performing the Continuous Improvement only in January or only on Friday.

The sense here is that you have to carry out the Continuous Improvement every day. Has the word suggests has to be Continuous.


as for the operation, the quality, the HR, the sourcing, etc.

A permanent staff of professionals has to be 100% dedicated to the improvement, otherwise, it cannot be continuous and the shopfloor easily will slip back to the old habits.


to reach this continuity, the senior management has to be totally committed.

Believe me, there is no chance to be successful if the leadership is not on board.

Let us move to the second word: “Improvement”.

Improvement means to be better than before.

For example, I have improved my run time if I have moved from 10 km to 15 km run in 45 minutes!


I have lost my weight from 90 kg to 85 kg with a target of 80 kg.


Please note that to make improvements there are a couple of things to underline as necessary.

First, you need a system to measure what you want to improve.

It is known the famous sentence: “You cannot improve what you do not measure”.

Second, you need a target to reach. My suggestion here is to have a target that is achievable by the team in a reasonable time-frame.

For example, the team has to reduce the defects of the SKU 1234 from 3% to 2% in 2 months. This metric will be updated weekly and monitored daily.

I want to underline that the improvement has not to be huge in one shot.
The key point is to have improvements every day, everywhere made by everyone.

After a constant application of this methodology, you will see incredible results.

This concept of the power of consistency is explained in the book,



Continuous Improvement is often called KAIZEN. KAIZEN is a Japanese word that means KAI = Change, ZEN = Better.

So, I am fine to use one or the other.


It is now time to mix the words and jump to conclusions.

Continuous Improvement is a methodology that aims people to continuously ask themself: “How can I do better in my job?”

The team has to practice in finding the root cause of the problems and implement solutions faster and faster.

It does not happen overnight and a company has to practice for years before labeling as an expert.

There are many tools you can use in the Continuous Improvement Process but do not forget that the most important thing is to involve people, listen and respect them.

Continuous Improvement Process – How to Implement

In the previous paragraphs, I have explained what is Continuous Improvement and why it is important.

Now I will explain to you how to start and maintain a Continuous Improvement Process, step by step.

1 – Kaizen Continuous Improvement is a “Process”

Firstly, you have to understand that Continuous Improvement is a process and not a project.

The difference lies in the fact that a project has:

  • Start date
  • End date
  • Budget
  • Results to be obtained

On the other hand, a process is something that is continuously present in a company.

Can you imagine not having an HR department or a Sourcing Departement into the company?

Can you imagine having these departments not staffed enough?

With the same approach, you have to understand that the Lean Continuous Improvement department has to be always present in the company with the right staff in terms of the number of people and expertise.

Hence, do not accept to create a Continuous Improvement Journey if there is not a real commitment to creating it forever.

2 – You need a Sensei

In this video, M. Ballè explains clearly why a company needs a Sensei for the Lean Journey.

The main points are:

– He can help you to learn what you need to learn.

– He can help you to use the Continuous Improvement Tools in your context.

– You can have more than 1 Sensei and finding one is part of the Lean Journey.

The Sensei has to train by doing the continuous improvement manager you decided to have in the company 100% dedicated to the Kaizen Process.

3 – Define a Kaizen Implementation Plan & Right Resources

If you have to start from zero, you cannot imagine making improvements in the entire company in 1 year.

From my experience, it takes from 2 to 5 years to really have the benefits of continuous improvement.

So, once you have the Kaizen Office and a Sensei that can teach you, define an implementation plan with long term horizon and yearly goal.

One of the most used tools for this is the Hoshin Kanri (Video 1)

also known as Policy Deployment (Video 2)

4 – Select 1 Product Family to start with

The best way is to start with 1 product family that is significant for the company in terms of quantity and money.

There are many techniques to select the SKU’s to start with.

The most used are the Pareto Analysis and the PQ Matrix.

Here a video, how to create a Pareto in excel.

5 – Involve the people @ Shopfloor

Believe me, this is the key point.

Since now you have done all the work in the conference rooms and at the desks.

These steps have to be done but the secret sauce of success is the shopfloor (also known as GEMBA).

Into the Lean Culture, the operators @ shopfloor are the most expert people about the process.

This statement was also confirmed by research made by Yoshida.

In this research was confirmed that the operators know 100% to the real problems (… and I add 100% of potential solutions).

On the other hand, managers know only 4% of the real problems.

See the video here:


to involve people @ shopfloor is a professional job and you have to study some techniques to be effective.

  1. The first technique is to give people involved @ shopfloor the continuous improvement training.
    People love to be trained.
  2. The second technique is to start listening to them and solve the problems they tell you without filtering too much. This enables the human behavior of “Reciprocity“.Once you gave something to people they will love to give you something back. Hence, when you will ask them to do something different they will be more than welcome to try with you.

Here there are videos I suggest on this topic:

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

The Science of Persuasion

If you are the continuous improvement manager you have to be fallen in love for real improvements and you have to feel the pain if you see something wrong or if your sensei says that the situation is a disaster.

6 – Sustain the Continuous Improvement by a Daily Lean Morning Meeting

The Lean Morning Meeting @ Shopfloor is a non-negotiable step for a successful Continuous Improvement implementation.

I have collected many videos on this topic and I strongly suggest buying the e-book of Florence of Lean4U for a deeper understanding.

The Lean Morning Meeting is a cornerstone of a more structured path that is well described in one of the videos I love the most – The 5 Main Steps of the Lean Manager.

7 – Celebrate the success

This is a step often I have seen forgotten and I have seen months of good work wasted.

The celebration can be made with a party, with a  voucher, with public recognition in a conference room.

You have to find a way that fits your organization but does not forget it.

Everybody likes to be recognized and if after a long effort and tangible results nothing happens, it very difficult to ask for further help in the improvement.

8 – Move to another product family and not forget the first one

After 1 or 2 years you should have a product family with really improved numbers.

It is time to move the second product family with the most experienced people in Continuous Improvement.

Now it is time to ask for new people to insert into the Kaizen Office to really maintain the good results made on the first SKUs and extend the methodology to another set of significant SKUs.

From my experience, if you will move the Kaizen People to another line without sustaining the first one, you will lose most of the benefits.

Remember, Continuous Improvement is a process and has to be constantly supported.


In this guide, I explained what is continuous improvement, why it is important, its definition and how to implement it.

I will suggest you start today on this journey and my alert is to be persistent because the results will come after 1 or 2 years of constant exercise.

Finally, let me leave Steve Jobs to say something about Continuous Improvement:

I will love you to comment this article with your personal point of view.

Mark Anderson.

Mark Anderson