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Continuous improvement is a type of business philosophy that requires a constantly cycling process of review, adaptation, and improvement in all areas of practice. Proponents believe that continuous improvement allows a business or institution to stay abreast of changes and adapt along with both the business market and societal changes. Continuous improvement tools are systems, methods, or guidelines that create or help maintain the ongoing process of improvement.
Just as a farmer waters and tills the field until the harvest, employers operating under a continuous improvement philosophy believe that constant maintenance is the key to optimizing growth and performance. In order to create an atmosphere where evolution is both possible and not hugely disruptive to daily work, it is important to create a system of continuous improvement tools that build the ability to change into the fabric of the workplace. Continuous improvement tools may be the strategies that allow for adaptation, or may also be the integrated material products that make daily work more effective, safer, and better performing.
One of the most basic continuous improvement tools is the creation of a quality cycle. This is a chain of responsibility and command within a company that ensures that the process of improvement is a daily duty. A simplified quality cycle might begin with employee or customer feedback, which is then reviewed and broken down into practical solutions by an analysis group, leading to the training of workers and implementation of the solution. Following implementation, the solution is then open to review and feedback from employees and customers, which then starts the whole cycle over again.
Continuous improvement tools tend to focus on several major areas, such as improving products, improving the workplace, or improving the experience or satisfaction of the customer. Improving products may be done by increasing production efficiently or by increasing quality through research and innovation. Improving the workplace focuses on the employee experience and takes into account issues like interdepartmental communication, wages, and benefits. Customer service improvements may rely heavily on feedback from customers and proper employee training. One of the most useful features of continuous improvement theories is that when all of these areas are managed through an ongoing cyclical process, they each can gain the ability to positively influence the others.
Some people may refer to the actual solutions implemented as continuous improvement tools. These can include basic things that improve safety or efficiency, such as color-coded safety tape, or improved lighting fixtures. It may also include system-wide changes, such as improved software, or an alteration of factory floor layout to improve efficiency. Other tools may include training manuals and strategy guides that describe the various methods and principles of continuous improvement philosophy, such as the Japanese-inspired kaizen method.
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