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Continuous Improvement

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What is meant by continuous improvement?


Continuous improvement definition

Continuous improvement is the ongoing effort to improve products or processes — and, as such, it lives and dies on a company-wide ethos to strive for optimal outcomes in everything you do.

The concept of continuous improvement comes from Lean Manufacturing and has an original, Japanese name of ‘Kaizen’ meaning "change for the better". Why Japanese? Well, much like Kanban, the origins of continuous improvement lie in the success of Lean / Kaizen methods employed by Japanese manufacturing and business.

Today, thousands of companies strive to identify areas for continuous improvement. Building a culture of lean thinking and continuous improvement allows you to better your product or workflows, track the progress of each improvement, and identify any bottlenecks.

How do you apply continuous improvement?

The four-step Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) model is probably the most popular approach to organize and implement improvement efforts and build a continuous improvement culture. The model is a continuous feedback loop shown as a cycle because it is repeatable across the four stages:

1. Plan

Once you’ve recognized a problem in your product(s) or processes, you need to put a plan in place. What ideas do you have to improve it? How might that work? And what’s the desired outcome?

2. Do

Now is the time to try out your improvement ideas — you can test drive the improvements on a smaller, pilot project if it’s a wide-scale change you’re considering. Approaching the improvement as a trial helps you work out if it solves the problem in a low-risk way.

3. Check

Did your plan work? Have you achieved the desired outcome? If not, begin the cycle again.

4. Act

If your plan did work, roll out the changes beyond your pilot project.

What is continuous improvement in the workplace?

So far, we’ve spoken about the continuous improvement of products and processes, but this concept can be embraced across the entire business and in multiple departments too. 

In any typical workplace, there are unending opportunities to work smarter, more efficiently, to collaborate better, to be more customer-centric, and so on. Continuous improvement can also be used in the workplace to keep staff engaged — ask them what they think can be improved upon and then follow the PDCA model.

General FAQ

How can product managers benefit from continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement is essential for product managers as it challenges them to iteratively work on their product and make it better. You might be weeding out bugs, building new features based on user feedback, or simply looking for ways to strengthen the UX. Continuous improvement can make a product more profitable and more cost-effective.
When should you use continuous improvement?
The beauty of continuous improvement is that it is always required. Nothing is ever perfect — no way of working and certainly no digital product. Continuous improvement means bettering a product or process whenever there’s a need for it.
How do you build a culture of continuous improvement?
All employees are responsible for a culture of continuous improvement. Product managers can model these values by asking questions of the product and processes — are there improvements to be made? It’s also important to value everyone's input and consider all suggestions using the PDCA model shared above. User feedback plays a vital role in a culture of continuous improvement too.

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