What is Lean Continuous Improvement?

The terms “lean” and “continuous improvement” are often used in tandem because they work together, but they are not interchangeable.

Lean manufacturing, also called lean production or just lean, is a business operating system (it originated at Toyota in 1930, but it wasn’t popularized until the 1980s). As the name implies, it’s a system designed to achieve ultimate efficiency using the least resources possible. Lean involves a company’s complete operations, not just a single department or location. It works to eliminate waste and reduce drag on operations. Implementing a lean system doesn’t mean cutting operations (or labor) down to the bones. It simply means using every resource—from project management tools to service offerings to team skills—to the best and fullest advantage. Lean is all about the value to the customer.It’s the lens through which every practice and process is examined. Lean ultimately reduces costs, speeds up processes, and improves quality of products and services.

Continuous improvement is a component of lean production.While lean is a system, continuous improvement is the strategy that propelsLean into the stratosphere! A quick peek at Webster’s defines continuous as“ongoing” and improvement as “positive change” – and that’s right on the money.It’s a constant effort to increase an organization’s productivity and capability. Because change is incremental and owned by the people who are closest to the work, it’s much more effective than implementing broad, breakthrough changes. Done right, it actually makes employees’ jobs easier. You’ll sometime shear kaizen or Six Sigma used in place of lean. Those are specific types of continuous improvement models—you can think of it as shades of the same color.

Many companies believe they are continuously improving. And to some extent, it is true. But continuous improvement without Lean is the most inefficient strategy organizations can follow! Why? Lean provides an ideal framework for continuous improvement. Together, they set clear goals and communicate those goals to every single person involved in reaching them. It allows for ongoing feedback and adjustments. What did we change? Did it work? Why or why not? What comes next?

Lean ways of working, including continuous improvement, help companies shave time, trim costs and boosts profits without sacrificing quality and increasing customer satisfaction.


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