How continuous improvement builds a competitive manufacturing operation

Key takeaways
  • Continuous improvement focuses on improving all the processes, practices, products and services of an organization
  • The key questions about continuous improvement answered
  • 8 blog summaries that outline how CI applies to your organization
30 January 2023 – Continuous improvement (CI) is how leading manufacturers maintain their competitive edge while navigating ongoing economic uncertainty. Find out more about what it is and how to measure it; the benefits it can bring your organization; where to start your CI journey; and how to ensure its success below.

What is continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement focuses on improving all the processes, practices, products and services of an organization. It requires ongoing efforts and is often realized through small, steady and incremental improvements by frontline workers (kaizen methodology), but big breakthrough improvements are also possible.

A world-famous example of a CI approach in action is the Toyota Production System (TPS). The global manufacturing industry holds the TPS in high esteem – and for good reason too. Its lean philosophy underpins an efficient methodology that reduces waste and thereby creates more value.

The result is an entire organization working together to continuously improve the way it works to ensure superior customer satisfaction.


Download the how-to guide Making time for operations improvement for tips and techniques to embed operations improvement in your organization’s culture.

Discover more about how continuous improvement applies to your organization:

Continuous Improvement Methodologies

From Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen and 5S to tools like Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), CI methodologies provide the framework for the delivery of manufacturers’ processes and systems, workforces and technologies.

Learn about driving results through CI methods and tools

Continuous Improvement Strategy

A CI strategy helps manufacturers develop and implement the best practices they need to become world-class organizations unafraid of – and strengthened by – change.

Discover how to develop a continuous improvement strategy

Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing

Integrating ongoing improvement into day-to-day business philosophy has played a key role in driving many leading manufacturers and industrial companies across the world to new heights in business performance and ROI.

7 success stories of continuous improvement in manufacturing

Continuous Improvement Culture

Creating buy-in and getting everyone in your organization engaged and involved in making small gains consistently is the essence of a successful CI transformation. Here’s what a vibrant CI culture looks like.

Explore how a continuous improvement culture is the bedrock of world-class manufacturing

Continuous Improvement Journey

The CI journey is an ongoing cycle of improving competitiveness, consolidating gains and measuring performance. All actions need to be sequenced carefully, managed consistently and reviewed at regular intervals to ensure optimal impact.

Learn how to ensure success on your continuous improvement journey

Continuous Improvement Planning

Your strategy must plan for how cross-functional collaboration will be promoted; how tasks are assigned toward integrative improvement; and an assessment of your organization’s current level of digital maturity, and what skills and technology gaps need to be filled.

Learn about developing a continuous improvement plan in the digital age

Continuous Improvement System

While most manufacturers face similar concerns regarding consumer behavior, increased competition and digitalization, their organizational requirements and approaches to CI will differ. Choosing the right system helps organizations build competitive advantages, now and into the future.

Discover how a continuous improvement system boosts business performance

Continuous Improvement Process

To make organizations more resilient, agile and resourceful, a rigorous CI process providing strategic direction needs to be implemented. Building this organizational DNA supports digitalization and automation optimizing all functions to work as one and deliver superior service.

Explore the what, why and how of a continuous improvement process

Why is continuous improvement important?

The arrival of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, machine learning, data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics has transformed manufacturing operations. As a result, organizations have had to digitalize their operations and move from a traditional, function-focused production system to a modern, digital operating system (DOS).

A DOS is the next generation in production systems specifically geared to support digitally transformed or transforming manufacturing operations. It’s designed to merge lean and smart principles for ultimate efficiency and agility.

In this digital age, a continuous development approach is more important than ever before. Digital transformation is a complex organizational transition. With a CI culture firmly in place, manufacturers can position the shift to a DOS as positive change and encourage holistic buy-in through inclusive improvements and innovations.

This enables them to mitigate disruption, remain competitive throughout the digitalization process and achieve sustainable success.


How does continuous improvement work?

For CI to succeed and strengthen an organization’s competitive position, it needs all employees to be involved and working together toward the same goal. To create a CI culture, organizations need to:

  • Ensure a committed leadership
  • Involve and empower their employees
  • Recognize the value of incremental improvements
  • Focus on the customer
  • Measure improvements
  • Share ideas, collaborate and celebrate successes

How leaders lead is a crucial component of CI. As such, there needs to be a shift in leaders’ focus from running the business “as a boss” to improving the business “as a colleague”. Continuous improvement models are brought to life and sustained by leaders who, through their own behaviors and actions, encourage their teams to embrace positive change.

There is a method to activating a continuous development approach and maintaining momentum. Organizations can use these six steps to integrate CI processes into their operations. CI needs to be sustained in a continuous cycle; organizations move seamlessly from step 1 to step 6 and back to step 1 to ensure that efforts are ongoing.


What are the benefits of continuous improvement?

The primary benefit of CI is that it improves an organization’s resilience. It achieves this through a range of other benefits that impact the business.


Specific benefit Impact
Operational excellence Products and services that anticipate customer needs, resulting in better customer service
Competitive advantage Improved flexibility and responsiveness by streamlining all processes
Employee engagement and empowerment A proactive learning culture that encourages everyone to keep up with new technologies and trends, share knowledge and drive innovation
Reduced costs and wastes Increased revenue
World-class maturity and capabilities Successful digital transformation with limited disruptions during the transition
Quality management Fewer defective products and production errors


How do you measure the benefits of continuous improvement?

The impact of CI efforts is measured in tangible outcomes that directly affect a manufacturer’s bottom line. These key performance indicators (KPIs) can apply to various business objectives in the following ways:


Improvement area Example of what to measure
Production costs Volumes of water consumption
Employee health and safety Number of factory floor incidents
Quality control Amount of defected product returns
Customer satisfaction Customer retention
Reputation Customer acquisition
Competitiveness / market position Time to market


Every organization will have its own set of KPIs that relate to its particular set of objectives. However, success can be broken down into three business segments: Customer, Cost and Cash.


Typical ROI achieved through an integrative CI solution

Sustainability diagram


How do you ensure the success of your continuous improvement approach?

CI efforts succeed when the idea of improvement is embedded into an organization’s cultural DNA. Encourage employees at all levels to look for and implement incremental improvements – this will inspire employee engagement. When employees are encouraged and empowered to innovate, they are much more motivated to put effort into making improvements.

Organizational leaders play a vital role in creating a culture of CI. Their actions, behaviors and commitment to CI influence employee confidence and buy-in. How leaders approach CI will determine their success at inspiring it among their teams, which ultimately determines the organization’s overall level of CI success.

It is a large responsibility but fortunately, leaders can follow these 8 focus areas to inspire and guide their teams.


What is the connection between integrative improvement and continuous improvement?

An integrative approach to CI is designed to ensure that improvement initiatives include everyone and impact the business as a whole. It supports the shift to a DOS by dismantling operational silos and integrating teams for faster, better results. Essentially, an integrative improvement approach:

  • Arranges an organization around end-to-end processes that serve customer segments rather than functions
  • Involves all employees who work together to improve processes and systems from day to day
  • Ensures committed leadership that actively encourages the right mindset and behaviors to support integrative improvement principles
  • Embeds CI into the culture of the organization


Contact us today to discuss how we can help you develop a sustainable approach to continuous improvement.

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