6 Continuous Improvement Tools & Techniques

6 Continuous Improvement Tools & Techniques

Continuous improvement tools are a powerful resource in the lean manufacturing journey. Leveraging the right one can lead to improved productivity, reduced errors, and greater profitability overall. There are many different continuous improvement models that can help a business reach their lean ideals. But how do you know which one is most suited to your organization or specific challenges? In this article, we look at a range of options that can aid process management, streamline quality control, and improve efficiency.

Continuous Improvement Tools and Methodologies

Over the years, numerous tools, techniques, and systems have been designed to aid improvement. They are intended to give businesses a framework so that they don’t have to create their own from scratch. This allows them to learn from the best practices of others and leverage what’s been proven to work. However, knowing the difference between processes and terminology can be confusing. With so many options to choose from, how do you know which one is right for your specific business needs? Here’s an overview of the six most popular and effective continuous improvement tools available.

  1. PDCA

The PDCA cycle (short for plan, do, check, act) provides you with a systematic approach to testing different ideas and hypotheses. It can help you to implement continuous improvement throughout your organization using a structured framework. If you want to improve business processes, efficiency, or productivity, then the PDCA cycle can help.

The framework gives front line teams a four-step guide for executing incremental improvement practices. It enables them to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly and is commonly used in lean manufacturing. PDCA stands for:

  • Plan – define your strategic goals and how you’ll achieve them.
  • Do – implement the plan and make any changes required to ensure it works.
  • Check – evaluate the results and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Act – make adjustments based on what’s found in the previous step.

Some companies follow a slightly modified PDSA cycle, where the S stands for ‘study’ instead of check. It’s very similar to PDCA but involves passively observing instead of proactively checking. The simple format means that PDCA is one of the most easily adopted continuous improvement tools. Everyone in a company can understand and follow the four steps as they’re relatable in a wide variety of job roles, from human resources to R&D. It facilitates continuous process improvement and empowers employees to test ideas on a small scale. Over time, this creates a culture of creativity and innovation which is difficult for your competitors to replicate.

One of the key benefits of PDCA is that it’s easy to understand and remember. The acronym can quickly become a mantra that is repeated and utilized by everyone in the business. Some companies display the process on posters around their buildings while others print it on to mouse mats and coffee mugs. This gives employees a visual reminder and encourages them to adopt it as a consistent part of their work routine. The 4-step process doesn’t require weeks of training to understand either – it can be summarized clearly in a matter of minutes. Managers can then follow-up with staff as they implement it and help them to learn on the go. This approach to coaching means there isn’t a large barrier to implementation in terms of training. Companies can hit the ground running and then tweak it as they go along.

  1. Gemba Walks

When it comes to continuous improvement tools, Gemba walks can be particularly powerful. They enable you to tap into the most valuable resource a company has: its people. The most innovative improvement ideas often come from the employees who are working on the front line and problem-solving on a daily basis. They have an in-depth understanding of their particular area of the manufacturing process and are able to provide potential solutions.

Smart managers understand that the best way to capture these valuable insights is to get out of their offices and into the ‘Gemba’. This is the place where things actually happen, such as manufacturing or product development. Gemba walks involve interacting with staff on an informal basis at the location where they do their work (as opposed to a meeting room). It enables observation of real-life situations or the actual production process so that leaders have a better idea of things that are happening. This casual yet accurate form of data collection can be a powerful tool for companies that like simple improvement tools and techniques.

Regular Gemba walks also develop better employee relationships and a greater focus on continuous improvement. They provide a framework for regular interaction and create a habit of consistent feedback collection. However, it’s important not to use them as an opportunity to reprimand staff as this will make them less likely to open up and share their thoughts. This approach is best used to observe and collect data which can be used to inform future decision making.

As you might have noticed, this is a tool that’s specifically designed to gather feedback. It’s a data collection process that allows managers to tap into the vast knowledge of their team members. However, it’s not an end-to-end solution for improving business processes since it doesn’t facilitate the implementation or measurement. It is simply intended as a way to gather ideas and suggestions that can then be followed-up later. So, if you are going to try this approach, it’s really important that you have a mechanism in place for acting upon what you learn. You can use it in combination with other tools on this list or a follow-up process of your own.

  1. 5 Why’s

The 5 why’s is one of the best continuous improvement tools for root cause analysis. It can help you to identify the source of a problem and see beyond the superficial issue. By asking ‘why’ several times in a row, you can dive deeper into the heart of a problem. This enables you to them come up with potential solutions that accurately address it instead of just treating the symptoms. It also helps teams to move past apportioning blame or finger pointing to find the real issue.

Using the 5 why’s technique can also help you to determine the relationships between cause and effect (ideal for creating a fishbone diagram). It’s a simple tool that anyone can utilize without the need for statistical analysis like data regression or hypothesis testing. Businesses may find that they need to ask ‘why’ a few more times or a few less to get to the root of an issue. But this approach is a full proof way of getting to the heart of anything that isn’t working.

However, as with the Gemba Walk approach, this is not an end-to-end solution. It’s a powerful method for getting to the heart of an issue and identifying improvement opportunities. But it doesn’t facilitate the implementation of any ideas or provide a structure for coming up with solutions. It’s intended to help businesses get to the real issue instead of being distracted by superficial answers. This makes it a very useful tool to have in your arsenal but one that needs to be combined with others in order to enact meaningful change.

  1. Toyota Kata Coaching from Managers

The Toyota Kata concept was observed by Mike Rother as part of his research into the car company. Renowned for its Kaizen culture of continuous improvement, he noticed behavior patterns or ‘katas’ that were contributing to it. One of these katas related to the coaching of employees so that they learn, improve and focus their efforts in the right direction.

If you feel that your team is unmotivated or no longer developing, then Toyota Kata coaching can help them to improve effort. It sets regular challenges for them to achieve so that they’re always striving for continuous improvement. They are encouraged to develop daily improvement routines or habits that eventually become second nature. This approach provides a structure for continuous learning and development. This helps to reengage employees who feel stuck or those that have hit a plateau in their professional growth. Over time, this contributes to quality improvement and boosts productivity, so that your employees, customers, and bottom line all benefit.

There are a series of questions that managers can use to facilitate Kata Coaching with their staff members. They are designed to prompt reflection and self-development on the part of the employee. These questions are:

  1.    What was your last step?
  2.    What did you expect to happen?
  3.    What actually happened?
  4.    What did you learn?

Using these questions provides a framework for coaching discussions. They encourage employees to be proactive and think for themselves. They put the onus on staff members to identify issues and development areas so that it’s not just a one-way discussion. This aids engagement and helps to ensure that meaningful learning takes place.

  1. 3M’s – Muri, Mura, and Muda

The 3M’s were identified as part of the Toyota lean production system. They refer to three different categories of deviation that cause problems for companies. These issues can manifest themselves in manufacturing, research and development, marketing, or any number of other departments. The 3M’s refer to Japanese words that are usually translated as:

  • Muri – overburden caused by lack of resources, poor planning, or too much waste removal.
  • Mura – unevenness or irregularities which tend to be the source of ‘muda’ waste issues.
  • Muda – waste such as excessive transport, inventory, waiting, overproduction, or defects.

In pursuing a lean management approach to business, the 3M’s is one of the best continuous improvement tools for identifying problems that also eliminates waste. It can be used to highlight issues or opportunities for operations to become leaner. The system is helpful for total quality management and promoting the adoption of lean practices that create value for the customer.

It can be helpful to work through the 3M’s in turn. Looking for examples of Muri or overburden in your business will enable you to identify areas that need more resources or could benefit from better planning. Finding the sources of Mura or irregularities in your products will facilitate the next step of decreasing Muda or waste. It’s also important to consider other sources of waste too in order to streamline your lean operations to their full potential. This will allow you to focus on the elements that drive customer value and minimize the wasteful aspects that drain resources unnecessarily.

  1. Continuous Improvement Software

There are now many digital continuous improvement tools that offer powerful business benefits. They tend to leverage the best aspects of other improvement tools and combine them into one easy-to-use solution. Online platforms enable companies to easily capture ideas and feedback from employees. Some have built-in guides that walk people through continuous improvement processes (such as the PDCA cycle), empowering them to take action.

Continuous improvement software also makes analysis and reporting a breeze. Instead of spending time creating complex spreadsheets or gathering key performance indicators from different departments, reports can be generated instantly. This enables you to see how your company is progressing towards its continuous improvement goals and how productivity, profitability, or quality are being impacted.

Digital solutions also free up the flow of information. Because everything is stored centrally, there are no bottlenecks to delay steps in the process. Employees are able to see the progress of their suggestions or share updates on tests that they are running. This is a powerful step to removing silos between different departments and creating a culture of collaboration. It also removes the burden of ownership from specific team members and makes employees more accountable for making changes happen. The improved visibility leads to greater buy-in and a flurry of additional improvement ideas that can benefit the company.


Culled from Rever

1 thought on “6 Continuous Improvement Tools & Techniques”

  • 1
    Emmanuel Love on July 8, 2019 Reply

    Hey, how’s it going?

    I want to pass along some very important news that everyone needs to hear!

    In December of 2017, Donald Trump made history by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Why is this big news? Because by this the Jewish people of Israel are now able to press forward in bringing about the Third Temple prophesied in the Bible.

    Jewish Rabbis have publicly announced that their Messiah will be revealed in the coming years who will be a leader and spiritual guide to all nations, gathering all religions under the worship of one God.

    Biblical prophecy tells us that this Jewish Messiah who will take the stage will be the antichrist “who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). For a time he will bring about a false peace, but “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (Matthew 24:15)…then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).

    More importantly, the power that runs the world wants to put a RFID microchip in our body making us total slaves to them. This chip matches perfectly with the Mark of the Beast in the Bible, more specifically in Revelation 13:16-18:

    “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

    Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.”

    Referring to the last days, this could only be speaking of a cashless society, which we have yet to see, but are heading towards. Otherwise, we could still buy or sell without the mark amongst others if physical money was still currency. This Mark couldn’t be spiritual because the word references two different physical locations. If it was spiritual it would just say in the forehead. RFID microchip implant technology will be the future of a one world cashless society containing digital currency. It will be implanted in the right-hand or the forehead, and we cannot buy or sell without it. Revelation 13:11-18 tells us that a false prophet will arise on the world scene doing miracles before men, deceiving them to receive this Mark. Do not be deceived! We must grow strong in Jesus. AT ALL COSTS, DO NOT TAKE IT!

    “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11).

    People have been saying the end is coming for many years, but we needed two key things. One, the Third Temple, and two, the technology for a cashless society to fulfill the prophecy of the Mark of the Beast.

    Visit http://WWW.BIBLEFREEDOM.COM to see proof for these things and why the Bible truly is the word of God!

    If you haven’t already, it is time to seek God with all your heart. Jesus loves you more than you could imagine. He wants to have a relationship with you and redeem you from your sins. Turn to Him and repent while there is still hope! This is forever…God bless!


    We all know God exists. Why? Because without Him, we couldn’t prove anything at all. Do we live our lives as if we cannot know anything? No. So why is God necessary? In order to know anything for certain, you would have to know everything, or have revelation from somebody who does. Who is capable of knowing everything? God. So to know anything, you would have to be God, or know God.

    A worldview without God cannot account for the uniformity and intelligibility of nature. And why is it that we can even reason that God is the best explanation for this if there is no God? We are given reason to know or reject God, but never to know that He does not exist.

    It has been calculated by Roger Penrose that the odds of the initial conditions for the big bang to produce the universe that we see to be a number so big, that we could put a zero on every particle in the universe, and even that would not be enough to use every zero. What are the odds that God created the universe? Odds are no such thing. Who of you would gamble your life on one coin flip?

    Is there evidence that the Bible is the truth? Yes. Did you know that the creation accounts listed in the book of Genesis are not only all correct, but are also in the correct chronological order? That the Bible doesn’t say the Earth was formed in six 24-hour days but rather six long but finite periods of time? That the Bible makes 10 times more creation claims than all major “holy” books combined with no contradictions, while these other books have errors in them? The Bible stood alone by concurring with the big bang saying, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1); and says our universe is expanding, thousands of years before scientists discovered these things. Watch a potential life-changing video on the front page of http://WWW.BIBLEFREEDOM.COM with Astronomer(PhD) Hugh Ross explaining all these facts based on published scientific data. He has authored many books, backed even by atheist scientists.

    Jesus fulfilled more than 300 Messianic prophecies concerning His birth place, details of His life, His mission, His nature, His death, and His resurrection. He came to pay a debt that we could not, to be our legal justifier to reconcile us back to a Holy God; only if we are willing to receive Him: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

    God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him, through faith, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus says if we wish to enter into life to keep the commands! The two greatest commands are to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself. All the law hang on these commands. We must be born of and lead by the Holy Spirit, to be called children of God, to inherit the kingdom. If we are willing to humble ourselves in prayer to Jesus, to confess and forsake our sins, He is willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who keep asking of Him; giving us a new heart, leading us into all truth!

    Jesus came to free us from the bondage of sin. The everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels due to disobedience to God’s law. If we do the same, what makes us any different than the devil? Jesus says unless we repent, we shall perish. We must walk in the Spirit, producing fruits of love and forgiveness, so we may not fulfill the lusts of the flesh being hatred, fornication, drunkenness and the like. Whoever practices such things will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:16-26). If we sin, we may come before Jesus to ask for forgiveness (1 John 2:1-2). Evil thoughts are not sins, but rather temptations. It is not until these thoughts conceive and give birth by our hearts desire that they become sin (James 1:12-15). When we sin, we become in the likeness of the devil’s image, for he who sins is of the devil (1 John 3:8); but if we obey Jesus, in the image of God. For without holiness, we shall not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

    The oldest religion in the world is holiness (James 1:27). What religion did Adam and Eve follow before the fall? Jesus, Who became the last Adam, what religion does He follow? Is He not holy? He never told us to follow any religion or denomination but to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). There are many false doctrines being taught leading people astray. This is why we need the Holy Spirit for discernment. Unlike religion, holiness cannot be created. It is given to us from above by the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus is more than a religion; He is about having a personal relationship with the Father. Start by reading the Gospel of Matthew, to hear the words of God, to know His character and commandments. Follow and obey Jesus, for He is the way, the truth, and the life!

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