Production, Quality & Manufacturing

Continuous Improvement Process

The Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. It’s a six-step systematic approach to plan, sequence, and implement improvement efforts using data and elaborates on the Shewhart Cycle (Plan, Do, Study Act). The CIP provides a common language and methodology which enables understanding of the improvement process. The CIP always links back to each organization’s own goals and priorities.

Definition: Continuous improvement is the act of continually looking to improve upon a process, product, or service through small incremental steps.

Why Use a Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)

Implementing a Continuous Improvement Process in an organization should be standard practice now. Studies have shown the main benefits of a CIP are:

  • Increase productivity
  • Better teamwork and morale
  • Greater agility
  • Less waste
  • More efficiency
  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Increase in profit

Methods of Continuous Improvement

There are a few methods for continuous improvement. Shewhart Cycle, Six Sigma, Kanban, Lean Manufacturing, Theory of Constraints, and Total Quality Management (TQM) are a few of these methods. Each method helps program personnel improve products, services, or processes by reducing variation, defects, and cycle times.

Phases of the Shewhart Cycle Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)

The Shewhart cycle has central to understanding project and program life cycles. There are four phases associated with the CIP utilizing the Shewhart Cycle:

  • Phase 1 “Plan”: Plan for change and identify improvement opportunities.
  • Phase 2 “Do”: Implement changes identified.
  • Phase 3 “Study”: Check to determine if the change had the desired outcome.
  • Phase 4 “Act”: If successful, implement it across the organization and process.
Shewhart Cycle
Figure 1: Shewhart Cycle

Continuous Improvement Process Tutorial

The Six (6) Steps of the Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)

Most of the CIP methods follow the six basic steps below in their execution.

  • Step 1: Identify Improvement Opportunity: Select the appropriate process for improvement.
    • Evaluate Process:
    • Select a challenge/problem
  • Step 2: Analyze: Identify and verify the root cause(s).
  • Step 3: Take Action: Plan and implement actions that correct the root cause(s).
  • Step 4: Study Results: Confirm the actions taken to achieve the target.
  • Step 5: Standardize Solution: Ensure the improved level of performance is maintained.
  • Step 6: Plan for the Future:
    • Plan what is to be done with any remaining problems
    • Evaluate the team’s effectiveness
    • Set a target for improvement

The Best Time to Start a Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)

There is no bad time to start using a continuous improvement process but the sooner, the better. Below is a list of the times I believe a CIP should be implemented:

  • Beginning of a new project
  • Development of processes and procedures
  • Developing a new or improved product, or service
  • Planning data collection and analysis
  • Implementing any change to a process
  • Whenever a failure occurs

Tools that can be used to help with the Continual Improvement Process (CIP) are:

Lessons Learned from the Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)

The following are some of the most important lessons that can be learned by utilizing a continuous improvement process:

  • Start small and improve one part at a time: It’s important to start small and work on one part of a project or process at a time. By doing this, you can take small steps forward and gain speed.
  • Don’t forget your team: For continuous improvement to work well takes a team. Include your team in figuring out where the problems are and how to fix them. This will get people involved and make sure that the changes you make will last.
  • Measure and keep track of your progress: to see if your efforts for continuous improvement are working or not. Then you can make any necessary changes to see if your changes had the effect you wanted.
  • Be flexible: To keep improving, you must be willing to change and try new things. Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things, even if they seem strange.
  • Learn: Because continuous improvement is an iterative process, you should be willing to try new ideas and learn from your mistakes. Take advantage of the opportunity to grow and learn as you go.

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Updated: 6/23/2023

Rank: G4.7


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