What is Continuous Improvement and why businesses need it?

To remain competitive in the modern era, staying still and simply functioning is practically prehistoric. Businesses must be efficient and ahead of the curve, which can be done in a number of ways, one of which is through implementing a culture of Continuous Improvement (CI). Firms are competitive, not by their product/service, location or process, but by what it knows about how it behaves in various situations and understanding how to improve the efficiency of this behaviour. CI provides this knowledge and allows an organisation to constantly act on this knowledge.

So what actually is continuous improvement?

CI is the process of identifying incremental opportunities to improve and enhance the operational productivity of an organisation, by constantly reviewing the processes within the identified area. The main concept of CI is that it is a bottom-up system, with ground level employees advising management on how the process should work to best benefit the customer. Thus, encouraging all members of the organisation to get involved and work collaboratively to continually identify processes that can be improved.

CI requires a culture of organisational learning, which allows organisations to act on and learn from the tacit and explicit knowledge of employees. By using employees knowledge, organisations can improve problem processes, products/services or departments. Organisations can learn from the past and anticipate the future, whilst responding to the opportunities and threats of current day and adapting to accommodate these.

Why should an organisation adopt a culture of continuous improvement?

As CI is an incremental process, it has many benefits and is more feasible, both physically and financially, in comparison to large-scale change projects. There are 4 main benefits of CI:

  1. CI involves a large number of employees in a collaborative effort, providing a common purpose. This can ensure the adaptation is seen as an ‘evolutionary journey’ not a sudden change.

  2. Various ‘small wins’ within CI can occur simultaneously or have a domino effect on other areas, resulting in a larger impact on the organisation.

  3. CI encourages change in organisational culture to ensure that changes are maintained in the long-term.

  4. There are various CI models that can be easily applied, like the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle or the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) cycle, to aid successful implementation of a CI culture.

Finally, it can be suggested that CI is integral to organisation’s competitive advantage and should be taken seriously as a continually increasing business trend. The requirement for CI in organisations is only increasing as a means of assurance for the organisation’s existence which should continue in this way in the immediate future, with situations like Brexit and Cryptocurrency continually shaking up the business world.