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How to Implement Continuous Process Improvement

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

What Is a Continuous Process Improvement Methodology?

A Continuous Process Improvement methodology or CPI is any process improvement method with a planned cycle to gradually move toward a goal. CPI include Six Sigma, lean engineering, Lean Six Sigma and others.

All continuous improvement cycles loop like this, though the number of steps and their names vary.

All continuous improvement cycles loop like this, though the number of steps and their names vary.

Initial Steps to Implement Continuous Improvement

  1. Determine which continuous process method works best for your organization. Is your primary goal improving quality? Then you should adopt Six Sigma. Do you want to do more with less, whether it is in order to improve your ecological footprint or save money? You should look into lean manufacturing. Do you want to improve both quality and reduce waste? Take Lean Six Sigma, also called Lean Sigma.
  2. Decide if this is a company wide endeavor or limited to manufacturing or customer service. Will you be adopting the continuous improvement method as a permanent part of your corporate culture, or are you simply looking to improve a few key areas? The scope of the undertaking will determine the training your staff will receive. Black Belt training for Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma costs several thousand dollars. Green belt training is less, Master Black Belt costs more. If you are looking for minor improvements within your organization over time, consider training several green belts among your engineers and shop floor managers while bringing in a Black Belt as a consultant as required. For deeper seated issues, train on of your managers or quality leads as a Black Belt in the continuous process method you intend to adopt. For broad process improvement initiatives and very large programs, invest in a Master Black Belt as a long term consultant or employee to train key employees as Black Belts and lower levels.
  3. Choose a Champion. What manager will be responsible for this initiative? Who will ensure that there is funding and time for training? Who in the organization will ensure that the continuous process improvement initiative is taken seriously by managers and employees at all levels?
  4. Nominate or select employees to be trained as experts, either Black Belts or green belts. Do not select employees merely on the basis of their free time or seniority. Pick employees who are interested or passionate about solving the problems your organization faces.
Continuous process improvement methods generally come down to Six Sigma, Lean Engineering and Lean Six Sigma.

Continuous process improvement methods generally come down to Six Sigma, Lean Engineering and Lean Six Sigma.

Implementation and Follow Through

5. Select several few burning platforms or lead problems to be resolved by the continuous process improvement teams. This gives them direction and ensures that they are trying to solve problems the company needs resolved.

6. Provide employees with the time to attend training and work on projects after training. Do not demand that employees already working full time in key areas also work on a continuous process initiative in addition to other duties. The only possible exception to this would be if the employees are already working full time on solving the quality issues or resource constraints the continuous process improvement initiative is intended to solve.

7. Provide recognition as projects are completed.

8. Tally cost savings or quality improvements as they are achieved.

9. Show the benefits of the quality initiative to keep the process going.

10. The Champion should follow up with the trained employees after the first rounds of projects to verify that second and third waves of projects are started. Continuous process improvement initiatives cannot be allowed to stop after the first round of projects, or the investment in training and resources is wasted. Check in with the trained experts. Are they overloaded with their day job and unable to do more projects? Is someone else in the group working full steam on process improvement and would better as an official project team lead? Do new employees need to be trained in the continuous process improvement methodology? Is re-training necessary for employees who’ve fallen back into old work processes, although the Six Sigma or lean projects changed business processes?


MK Vig from India on October 19, 2020:

One of the important factors in small continuous improvement is how fast as a team you are detecting problems .. As a user of system , when it is being done internally -sensitization of team for identifying problems is the key - the team will be able to solve problems but identification and rate of identification of problem is the key to the speed of Quality improvement. As a user - Usability testing and the rawness of usability testing can give more opportunities for improvement

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on June 11, 2012:

I love that people are given roles that encourage them to feel empowered, important, and engaged. That's key!

Continuous process improvement is awesome. Even in companies that couldn't quite stomach the lingo and structure, these basic principles can be SUPER helpful.

Tamara Wilhite (author) from Fort Worth, Texas on June 01, 2012:

Improvement of an existing business, getting leaner but not necessarily meaner, is a form of growth.

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