Continuous Improvement (CI)

Continuous Improvement (CI)

What it is

From organisational structure and team behaviour to leadership strategies and productivity, there are many factors that must be taken into account for an organisation to thrive. It’s important that these factors are finely balanced in order to deliver organisational success. 

Continuous improvement (CI) is one way in which organisations can approach this task, providing established frameworks by which businesses can streamline processes and eradicate loss and waste.

If you’re interested in boosting productivity and reducing costs, read on to learn more about the different CI models, their benefits, and how you could grow a culture of Continuous Improvement in your organisation. 


  • What is Continuous Improvement?
  • What is The Aim of Continuous Improvement?
  • Adopting Continuous Improvement: 6 Tools and Methodologies
  • The Henkan Way: an Intelligent Blend
  • What are The Benefits of Continuous Improvement?
  • Growing a Culture of Continuous Improvement in Your Organisation

Our guide, ‘The 4 Key Components of a Successful Continuous Improvement (CI) Programme’ is a great place to begin your Continuous Improvement journey. Click below to download your copy today.


What is Continuous Improvement?

CI is a philosophy that has been present for decades, encompassing many different best practices. Whilst numerous methodologies have been developed, enhanced, or expanded upon, they all centre around the same foundational meaning: CI is a company-wide process that embraces change by focusing on accumulative innovation for the purpose of reducing waste and improving efficiencies.

CI takes place at three different levels within the organisation: leadership, group, and individual.

  • Leadership level centres around the organisation’s strategy
  • Group level focuses on problem-solving tasks at a broad level
  • Individual-level addresses improvement on a micro-scale – personal, day-to-day problem-solving tasks

In order to reap maximum benefits from a CI programme, leaders must implement CI at each of these levels.

Learn how to design a world class CI programme that transforms your organisation’s performance with this free guide. Download the PDF version right here:


What is The Aim of a Continuous Improvement Process?

Continuous Improvement is a journey, the aim of which is to continually improve processes through incremental changes that follow particular, well-planned methods.

As with any other journey, CI requires clarity of the destination and organisational commitment to getting there. Only when both of these are in place can CI deliver on its aim of improving people, processes, and systems as part of one, joined-up process to ensure sustainable, company-wide efficiency.

Adopting Continuous Improvement: 6 Tools and Methodologies

Lean Manufacturing

The function, or aim, of Lean manufacturing, is the elimination of waste in every area of production. This includes everything from customer relations and product design to supplier networks and factory management following five principles: specify the value (value is what the customer is willing to pay for), identify the value stream, make value flow, let the customer pull value from the producer, and pursue perfection.

The term Lean was first defined in the seminal book ‘The Machine That Changed the World’ (Roos, Daniel; Womack, James; Jones, Daniel, 1990) and further detailed in the book ‘Lean Thinking’ (Womack, James; Jones, Daniel, 1996). Womack and Jones introduced the reader to the word ‘muda’ meaning ‘waste’ in Japanese. Here, waste refers to organisational activities that utilise resources but do not produce any real value in return. By eliminating waste within an organisation, you can achieve greater outcomes and improved processes with less, i.e. you can function in a ‘lean’, efficient way.  

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

TPM is a methodology that primarily focuses on equipment and people. By improving productivity and supporting production foundations, an organisation can operate efficiently with minimal loss.

Total Productive Maintenance takes an eight-pillar approach made up of the following features: 

  • Autonomous maintenance
  • Focused maintenance
  • Planned maintenance
  • Education and training
  • Safety
  • Health and environment
  • Office TPM
  • Development management

The advantages of implementing TPM include loss reduction related to equipment and employees, increased efficiency, accident prevention and energy savings.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma focuses on reducing process variation and enhancing process control. How? By providing organisations with tools to improve the capability of their business processes. This allows the business to improve performance and lessen process variation. This method of Continuous Improvement utilises the following tools:

  • SPC (Statistical Process Control): using statistical techniques to control a process or production method. 
  • FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis): an approach that identifies where areas of design, manufacturing, assembly processes, for example, are lacking.
  • DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control): a data-driven quality strategy used to improve processes.
  • Control charts: a graph used to study how a process changes over time.
  • Process mapping: an organised way to record all the activities performed by a person or machine, with a customer or on materials.

Whilst these tools are different, they all share similar characteristics. The tools of Six Sigma ultimately help to improve employee morale, boost company profits, and enhance the quality of products or services.

World Class Manufacturing (WCM)

WCM was developed in 2005 by Fiat and Hajime Yamashina, Professor Emeritus at Kyoto University in Japan. Involving all manufacturing tasks and processes across an entire organisation, WCM is a structured and integrated production system that spans from leadership-level individuals to those on the shop floor.

WCM has 20 operational and managerial principles split into 10 technical pillars and 10 managerial pillars.


Whilst World Class Manufacturing is a standalone, well-established method, it borrows from other approaches such as Lean, TPM and Six Sigma. This can be seen as an advantage; as WCM has absorbed many of the CI tools that preceded it, some argue that WCM is one of the most comprehensive Continuous Improvement approaches at present.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

VSM is an important Lean manufacturing technique used to improve business by eliminating non-value-adding activities or product waste by improving physical movement and information exchange processes operations.

A Value Stream is a set of actions that take place throughout the entire manufacturing process up to the point of customer purchase. VSM covers both value-adding as well as non-value-adding activities as it involves end-to-end analysis to identify waste and visualise processes for the future. It facilitates a holistic view of any opportunity for improvement throughout the organisation or specific processes within.


Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning ongoing or Continuous Improvement; ‘kai’ meaning ‘change’ and ‘zen’ meaning ‘good’. It centres around the idea that with small, continual positive changes, organisations can experience significant improvements in efficiency and productivity.

Kaizen defines Toyota’s predominant approach to doing business: challenge everything. This method puts importance on continually learning and embracing change, as well as showing respect to coworkers, providing job security for employees, motivating people and engaging team members by encouraging active participation in order to develop the organisation.

The implementation of Kaizen helps to cultivate a strong Continuous Improvement culture within an organisation that encourages creativity and promotes the theme of never settling on a status quo.

The Henkan Way: an Intelligent Blend

The Henkan Way is a transformative approach built on the concept of creating a culture of sustainable and profitable excellence. It aims to achieve this by applying an intelligent blend of tools including, but not limited to, many of the methodologies mentioned above, tailored to the specific needs of the client. It is people orientated and underpinned by interdependent elements: 

  • Leadership: providing the context, drive and building blocks for change with a focus on constructing positive behaviours and CI-specific competence. 
  • Organisational Culture: fundamental to the success of the company is the development of the appropriate organisational behaviours. Culture is at the heart of a successful CI programme. Leadership, Tools and Roadmap work together to drive positive, proactive, autonomous organisational behaviours. 
  • Tools: selecting the appropriate tools and methodologies according to an organisation’s individual context and capability; tools are used to support the desired change in organisational habit.
  • Roadmap: painting a picture of where the company is going, illustrating the steps that will be taken to get there and recognising that the transformation requires systematic planning and management to ensure milestones are achieved.

Radically improving your performance within a Continuous Improvement environment can be easy when you adopt a holistic approach.


What are The Benefits of Continuous Improvement?

Empowered Employees 

Developing employee accountability empowers people, giving them confidence and the drive to make positive contributions to the team and work autonomously. 

Seamless Processes 

Identifying the root cause(s) of inefficiency in the business enables you to improve current organisational processes and, over time, make them seamless by eliminating waste and driving a team of autonomous problem solvers.

Increased Staff Retention 

Crafting a culture that appreciates employees and offers a sense of purpose will reduce turnover rates, create a boost in engagement and increase the likelihood of employees feeling appreciated and empowered, which maximises retention.

Competitive Advantage 

When your processes are running efficiently and your employees are feeling content, you are able to enhance the value and output of your products. This ensures your customers are happy, that you’re engaging new prospects and turning over a healthy profit which gives you an advantage over your competitors.

Long-Term Growth

By continuously ensuring leadership buy-in, employee engagement, and seamless processes, you are setting up your business for sustainability and long-term success. 

A Cohesive Bond 

CI encourages company-wide communication; working together as a team to achieve one common goal. This connects people and offers a shared sense of community wherein people are enthusiastic about helping and supporting each other in all organisational processes.

6 Key Benefits of Implementing a Continuous Improvement (CI) Programme in Your Business: to take a more in-depth look at the primary benefits of Continuous Improvement.


Continuous Improvement programmes are deeply rooted in traditional manufacturing-focused systems that concentrate on the production line to reduce waste, increase efficiency and improve product quality. These programmes are comprehensive, systematic methodologies that centre around the entire organisation, from top management to those operating on the shop floor. 

While CI has evolved over the decades, the basic underlying factor driving this change has been the endless pursuit of excellence.

Growing a Culture of Continuous Improvement in Your Organisation

Continuous Improvement begins by realising that there are inefficiencies within your organisation and recognising the importance of accepting and implementing change. Evolution is critical to the sustainability of any business, and the models listed above are great examples of powerful tools that can be woven into the fabric of your organisation. 

Implementing Continuous Improvement can sometimes be overwhelming, and it may happen when you are unsure about how to start, whether you are on the right path, taking the right direction or if you do not have experienced and competent resources available. Fortunately, we can help you with that. Our consultants are specifically selected for their ability to engage people and organisations in successfully delivering CI programmes. We guide you on your journey and make you the experts so that you can continue building your army of problem solvers long after we are gone.

Get in touch today to learn more about Continuous Improvement, how to successfully launch a programme yourself or adapt your current one for sustainable success.


The Henkan Team have made a significant contribution to the progressive success of the Heineken TPM programme over the last 3 years. As a valued partner for change, they have supported us through the transfer of their knowledge and experience using a practical, passionate and engaging approach.

Christopher Kerr

Global TPM Director – Heineken


We are continuous improvement consultants who possess the necessary cultural insight, soft skills and business acumen required to work in a global environment.

Read more

Media Centre

Welcoming Paul back from South Africa

Welcome back from South Africa Paul.

Read more

September 2016