A continuous improvement process (CIP) is an approach to management that relies on continually improving at a company to stay ahead of the competition and create an organizational culture of quality. This approach is seen not just in the corporate world but also in the military and at institutions like schools. Organizations can create their own approach or rely on a consultant to set up a plan that will work for their needs.
In the continuous improvement process, the goal is to make incremental changes over time to create a trend of improvement. Rather than developing a process and leaving it as is, a factory will keep improving it to make it better. The quality of the company's output should steadily increase while the company becomes more efficient. This can be true of anything from manufacturing cars to teaching students. This process operates in the long term rather than reacting to specific issues as they occur.
This can start with identifying various areas that could benefit from improvement and establishing clear goals and a plan. This will help maintain accountability, as the company can check performance against the stated goals to see if it is meeting them. In the continuous improvement process, the company may also place a focus on incorporating feedback from staff members at every level. Anyone can present an idea and will receive a fair hearing, and the company will decide whether to adopt it.
One advantage to the continuous improvement process is the ability to stay ahead of the competition. Companies with a constant eye for improvement can also attract more investors and shareholders, as they can produce information on measurable achievements and show how their goal-setting impacts their business practices. A company might, for example, set a goal to cut production time in half over the course of a year. It implements a variety of improvements to accomplish this goal, and when it meets it, it sets a new goal to meet, with the goal of always improving.
In an environment where the continuous improvement process is part of the culture, companies can use a variety of tools to assess performance and collect feedback. These can include regular staff meetings, supervisor reports on personnel, and comment or suggestion boxes that any employee can submit ideas to as they arise. While a clear chain of command is often present, all employees also have an equal right to be heard and can bring new insights to the table from their own areas of expertise; a person who works on the factory floor with equipment may have ideas that a supervisor does not, for instance, because she actually handles the equipment every day.