Continuous Improvement

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Write a 3000 word paper explaining what continuous improvement means in the context of organisational success. Explain how the concept can and should be applied. Explain how it is possible to lead continuous improvement systems and processes and how opportunities for improvement can be managed to provide benefits for an organisation. Outline how you, as an organisation leader, would contribute to and implement continuous improvement initiatives.

What is Continuous Improvement?
Continuous improvement in a management context means a never-ending effort to expose and eliminate root causes of problems. Usually, it involves many incremental or small-step improvements rather than one overwhelming innovation.

Continuous improvement is a philosophy, permeating the Japanese culture, which seeks to improve all factors related to the transformation process (converting inputs into outputs) on an ongoing basis. It involves everyone, management and labour, in finding and eliminating waste in machinery, labour, materials and production methods.

The Japanese word for continuous improvement, kaizen, is often used interchangeably with the term continuous improvement. From the Japanese character kai, meaning change, and the character zen, meaning good, taken literally, it means improvement.

Organisational performance can improve from knowledge gained through experience. Lessons learned from mistakes mean those mistakes are less likely to be repeated, while successes encourage workers to try the same thing again or continue to try new things. While this learning process occurs throughout the system it is particularly important for accomplishing the long-term improvement associated with continuous improvement. In order for continuous improvement to be successful, the organisation must learn from past experience and translate this learning into improved performance.

Part of the learning process is trying new approaches, exploring new methods and testing new ideas for improving the various processes. So experimentation can be an important part of this organisational learning. Naturally, many of these worker-led experiments will fail, so it is important to recognize that there is some risk associated with this experimentation. If management is uncomfortable with risk, it may be reluctant to allow any real degree of experimentation. Obviously, management cannot risk disabling the production process itself or endanger the well-being of the workforce, but the complete absence of risk can reduce the vision of those involved in the continuous improvement process.

Improvements will generally come in modest increments of progress. Therefore, management must recognize that some experiments will fail as part of the learning process, and avoid the temptation to harshly judge the perpetrator as having new but unsuccessful ideas. Some even feel that it is critical to establish an environment that reinforces the notion that risk is good. Again, this involves consistency in management's attitude toward change and the empowerment of employees.

The achievement of continuous improvement requires a long-term view and the support of top management. But it is also important that all levels of management actively support and become involved in the process. Proper support structures of training, management, resource allocation, measurement, and reward and incentive systems must be in place for successful adoption. This includes a willingness to provide financial support and to recognize achievements. It is desirable to formulate goals with the workers' help, publicise the goals, and document the accomplishments. These goals give the workers something tangible to strive for, with the recognition helping to maintain worker interest and morale.

Continuous Improvement also requires that all employees in the organisation be involved in the process. Every employee must be motivated to accept continuous improvement as a means by which...
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