What Is Continuous Improvement? (With 13 Examples)

Updated March 10, 2023

Businesses and organizations may regularly identify areas of improvement to ensure their operations are effective and efficient. One strategy used to generate solutions for these areas is continuous improvement, which allows companies to identify ways to streamline processes. If you're a professional, you may benefit from learning about the process of continuous improvement and how it can help your organization. In this article, we define this process, review the two types and provide 13 continuous improvement examples to guide you.

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What is continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement is a business strategy that involves the evaluation and revision of processes, methods and practices within your organization. The goal of continuous improvement is to make periodic changes to increase the efficiency, accuracy and effectiveness of business operations. You can begin implementing continuous improvement by identifying a problem, planning solutions with a team, testing ideas and monitoring changes.

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Types of continuous improvement

There are two main types of continuous improvement that you may implement in your organization: incremental and breakthrough improvement. It's best to have a combination of each type to ensure that your processes of improvement are effective. Here's some information on each type:

Incremental continuous improvement

Incremental continuous improvement refers to the process of making minor adjustments to operations, methods or practices within your organization. As problems arise, you can identify the cause and implement an immediate solution. Typically, you can make decisions about incremental improvements by yourself without consulting a team. Incremental changes can improve the overall flow and accuracy of a business process. Although you can make these changes individually, you can inform your team about certain improvements so they better understand the process. Making small changes incrementally can save time since these changes don't require a review of the entire process or operation.

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Breakthrough continuous improvement

Conversely, breakthrough continuous improvement refers to the process of making large changes to a process, method or business practice. For these types of improvements, it's best to review the process with a team of employees. Then, the team can make decisions as a group about the best way to improve the process. Typically, breakthrough improvements take more time, but they have more impactful results. You may implement breakthrough continuous improvement when your team notices that a process or operation requires significant changes. These large adjustments can have a significant impact on an organization's productivity, output and profits.

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13 continuous improvement examples

There are a variety of instances where continuous improvement can increase productivity and create a holistic work environment. Here are 13 examples of continuous improvement in the workplace:

1. Optimizing a process

Here's an example of an organization that eliminated unnecessary steps within a process to optimize it for employees:

A marketing team has a structured process for communicating with a new client. One of the steps involves asking a series of questions to better understand the needs of the client. However, there are times during this portion of the process when clients provided vague answers or took several days to respond to emails. After noticing this, the marketing director implemented a new process of sending a survey to each client where they can easily respond to all the necessary questions. This increased the response rates from potential clients and gave the team well-rounded answers.

2. Implementing brainstorming

One helpful continuous improvement process is to facilitate brainstorming sessions. This may help your team identify problems before they arise. Here's an example:

The team leaders of the sales department decide to organize quarterly brainstorming sessions. These sessions occur with the team leaders, then the leaders have separate brainstorming sessions with their own teams. This helps the sales department identify areas of improvement and recognize processes that work effectively.

3. Editing your team's work

Incremental improvement may take the form of editing your team's work when you notice small errors. Here's an example:

A development associate at a nonprofit was preparing a contract for a new donor. Typically, the development team uses a template for donor contracts and changes the relevant details before sending them out. However, when adding the contact information, the associate noticed a spelling error. Instead of alerting a team lead, the associate took the initiative to edit the original template.

4. Reviewing employee performances

Another process of continuous improvement involves reviewing employees' performances. Here's an example:

A department manager conducts yearly reviews to assess their employees' performances. After the reviews take place, the manager uses these reviews to identify areas where the team needs further training. The manager also uses these reviews to reward high-performing employees. This process helps the department improve over the course of time since the employees can grow professionally through regular training and development.

5. Simplifying purchasing methods

Here's an example of an organization simplifying its purchasing methods:

An e-commerce organization wants to increase its sales. While in a vision meeting, a salesperson identifies that there's only one payment method accepted on the company website. By adding multiple methods of accepting payments, the company increased sales by 15% in six weeks.

6. Maintaining health and safety

Processes of health and safety require regular improvement to ensure they remain updated. For example:

After noticing that many employees felt tired, a hospital institutes regular mental health assessments for their staff members. This assessment ensures that medical personnel can perform their jobs to the best of their ability. These assessments helped lower the risk of staff harming themselves or others.

7. Managing potential risk

Here's an example of an organization implementing a new process to manage potential risk:

An investment bank receives electronic payments from clients. However, the chief executive officer identifies the potential risk with cybersecurity when a client makes an initial payment. After a brainstorming session, the executive decides to implement a process of approvals, credit checks and bank confirmation before accepting initial payment from a new client. This new process develops stronger trust between clients and the bank as a result of the additional security.

8. Recognizing cause and effect

It's necessary for organizations to identify what causes certain issues to arise. Here's an example:

A sales team notices that they haven't reached their quota for the quarter. Many salespeople on the team struggled with keeping potential clients interested. The manager of this team asks each employee to explain their sales method, which reveals several areas of improvement. To lead to breakthrough improvement, the manager decides to retrain the sales team to implement new methods for speaking with clients. In the next quarter, the sales team exceeds their quota by 10%.

9. Highlighting minor issues

Sometimes, it's necessary to highlight minor issues rather than solve them yourself. For example:

An associate notices that several links on the company's website don't lead to the correct page. Since this associate doesn't have the ability to edit the company website, they send an email to the internal communications manager, explaining the issue. By recognizing this minor issue, the associate is able to equip another department to make an incremental improvement.

10. Refreshing staff training

Some breakthrough improvements occur on a regular basis, such as refreshing the curriculum for staff training. Here's an example:

The human resources department of a corporation conducts biannual meetings to review and revise staff training. This includes reading through the curriculum, highlighting information to remove and what should stay. This process helps keep the employees updated, and it ensures that the HR department includes all relevant changes.

11. Updating staff photos

While some incremental changes occur when problems arise, a company may also plan for incremental change. Here's an example:

A large organization with over 100 employees values transparency when working with clients. As a result, they decide to implement the incremental process of updating the staff's photos. While it may take time to capture these photos, the organization plans to execute this process on a regular basis to adhere to the company values.

12. Auditing company time

Another process of continuous improvement relates to auditing the company's time. Here's an example:

A company decides to conduct a time audit as a result of decreased productivity. This entails examining processes and operations to understand where the organization loses time. After this audit, the leaders have a better understanding of why productivity was low. As a result, they can implement new strategies or operations to try to optimize time as a resource.

13. Encouraging employees regularly

Here's an example of improving a team through an encouragement process:

A team leader recognizes that team members don't engage with one another regularly. While the team's performance is satisfactory, the leader wants to implement a process of encouragement to try to improve the team culture. This process involves asking team members to highlight one other employee's success during their weekly meeting. After implementing this, the team's performance improved by 35% in two months.

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