What is continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement is a lean improvement technique that helps to streamline workflows, resulting in saved time and money for organizations. There is increased attention being paid to optimizing maintenance efficiency as a way to improve asset reliability and availability.

There are three primary areas in which continuous improvement can further extend maintenance productivity. These include:

  • Eliminating waste that prevents maintenance work from being performed efficiently
  • Continuously improving preventive and predictive maintenance programs
  • Eliminating defects that cause the need for maintenance work

Types of continuous improvement techniques

There is always room for improvement when it comes to maximizing service levels and reducing maintenance costs. Continuous improvement can be achieved by using specific technologies and strategies based on your organization’s objectives. Commonly used continuous improvement techniques include Kaizen, Six Sigma, and Gemba.


Kaizen’s approach to continuous improvement is based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap significant improvements. It uses cooperation and commitment as foundational pillars, which contrasts drastically against approaches that use radical or top-down changes to achieve transformation.

Kaizen is core to lean manufacturing and the Toyota Way. It was developed in the manufacturing sector to lower defects, eliminate waste, boost productivity, encourage worker purpose and accountability, and promote innovation. Kaizen is essentially used to improve the whole business versus being product and quality-focused, like in the case of Six Sigma.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma’s continuous improvement model focuses on eliminating variability and improving predictability in organizations. Six Sigma aims to achieve stable and predictable process results through clearly defined, measurable processes and focuses on creating sustainable improvements to product quality.

Six Sigma’s approach to continuous improvement is disciplined and data-driven. It uses a set of quality management methods rooted in statistical analysis that requires specialized training and certification to see them through.


Gemba is the Japanese word meaning “the real place.” It refers to being on the factory floor and seeing what’s happening in real time. The Gemba technique involves walking around where operations are taking place in order to spot opportunities for waste reduction and process improvements. A Gemba Walk is a proactive problem-solving practice of operational control and improvement in factories.

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How to measure continuous improvement

To measure the success of whichever continuous improvement techniques you decide to implement, you must first define which maintenance metrics you want to use to evaluate your work. Common metrics used include:

  • Cost savings: What is the cost in dollars before and after the change was implemented?
  • Time: Is there a reduction in the amount of time it takes to perform specific processes?
  • Safety: Has the number of workplace incidents or hazards reported and observations of unsafe acts or conditions decreased?
  • ROI: Are you getting the expected return on investment? This is defined as the financial return of an investment divided by the cost of that investment for that period of time.
  • Quality: Have quality metrics improved? This can include defect rate, percentage of orders returned, on-time shipment rate, inventory accuracy, and more.
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