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What is Continuous Improvement?


What Is Continuous Improvement?

Creating a culture of continuous improvement in your company is more complicated than just talking about it.  The actions of the executive management team foster the culture that will permeate throughout the entire organization.  This commitment will require investment in people, training and the empowerment of all individuals to take an active role in the process. These investments will continue to yield results for years to come as the culture of continuous improvement takes hold and becomes second nature for all employees.

“Continual” Improvement vs “Continuous” Improvement

Understanding what the term continuous improvement means is the first step in establishing this culture. “Continuous” improvement means that organizations are in a constant state of driving process improvements. This involves a focus on linear and incremental improvement within existing processes. 
“Continual” improvements means that organizations go through process improvements in stages and these stages are separated by a period of time. This period of time might be necessary to understand if the improvements did actually help the bottom line. In some cases, the results might take a while to come to fruition. The graphs below illustrate the difference between continual improvement and continuous improvement.

continual_improvement_graph continuous_improvement_graph

Both continuous and continual improvement processes are beneficial and do not have to be mutually exclusive – a good organization should be implementing them both. But continual improvements are large, step-wise improvements usually consisting of multiple projects that take a long time to develop, implement, and realize the savings.  Some examples of continual improvement projects would be:

  • A new, larger facility because you have run out of storage space in an existing facility
  • A new technology (WMS system, automation) that drastically changes how the processes in your facility operate
  • The introduction of a new and improved product that requires significant changes to existing processes

While these improvements are necessary for growing healthy companies, they are not a part of the continuous improvement culture.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what continuous improvement is, how do you build a culture that embraces and embodies it? Part 2 of this blog, How to Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement, explains the steps. 

Author: Rob Schabinger

Rob Schabinger is a Consulting Engineer working for Bastian Consulting. He uses his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt knowledge for projects involving Network Design, Facility Layout and Operational Process Improvement. He joined Bastian Consulting in 2018 and has more than 15 years of experience in logistics and manufacturing.


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