How do YOU define "Continuous Improvement?"

Continuous Improvement Systems, eh? How do you define “continuous improvement?”

Well, continuous improvement is a climb, not a destination.

Great, you’re thinking, another one of these “we’ll never get there” type of things. Kind of like “Total Quality”, or “Zero Defects”. Yeah, we want that, but every time we do something, there’s more to do... Just don’t have the patience for these things….

I get it. While “Continuous” infers “never”, it also infers “iterative” and “incremental,” which is what I’m prescribing. Make small improvements that make an impact in smaller areas and can be built upon.

“Yeah, we want to be the best Widget maker in the world, but right now we’d settle for a 10% time savings per widget.”


“I know QuickBooks can print checks and envelopes, but I don’t have the time to figure out how to do that.” (Because I’m writing checks!!)

But how do we do that and still get the everyday things done? You do have to stop and define an achievable goal, but then you’ve got a couple of choices on how to get there:

Goal-oriented vs. Current/Future

Some improvement advocates propose they don’t care where we were before, they only care about the goal, like: “Yeah, 200 years ago, this was a swamp. Now it’s a struggling business that needs to improve it’s fulfillment rate.”

This camp also doesn’t care about “Before and After” pictures, with the thinking, “Would someone seeing this place for the first time care how far you’ve come?”

Think of the Parent, Coach, or Manager who NEVER seems happy. Nick Saban is the coach of the University of Alabama football team. After winning one of his multiple National Championships on a Monday night, his on-field interview answer was something like, “we’ll enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, and then Wednesday we’ll start working on getting another one (championship) next year.”

What are we going to do next? How are we going to fix this? What are you going to do to solve this problem?  If your team can take it, this mindset may provide the unrelenting desire for improvement, and the focus on the "next big thing".

Most of the other advocates are of the “Current/Future” camp. You’ve got to know where you are in order to get to where you want to be. They focus on the process to get there, and generally four points:
  • Define the steps to get “there”
  • Measure the work to “there”
  • Identify when we are “there”
  • Reflect if “there” is good enough.

This mindset can also show your team they ARE making progress, and keeps them motivated to achieve the next goal.

Regardless of which camp you’re in, there are still methodologies to performing the work to achieve the goal. I’ll write about a few of these in a future post. It’s remarkable how similar they are.

Focus on smaller goals toward an overarching goal. The tools I use revolve around the PCDA loop iterations until the smaller goal is achieved. At some point, then, you’re going to be satisfied with the sum of the improvements that continue the climb!

That's my definition of "Continuous Improvement." Let's see how we can improve your systems!


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