Keywords: continuous improvement, experience, evolution, survey, manufacturing
How continuous improvement evolves as companies gain experience
We use the term Continuous Improvement to denote the process of focused and systematic incremental changes that are aimed at small step improvements, and to a large extent rely on employee participation. The article takes its outset in the problems that many Western companies seem to have when trying to implement and sustain an efficient process of Continuous Improvement within their business. The purpose of the article is to contribute to a better understanding of these problems by exploring how Continuous Improvement evolves as companies gain experience. A twofold objective is derived from this purpose how does experience with Continuous Improvement relate to the context, practices and outcomes of Continuous Improvement; and what can be learned about the path of evolution towards Continuous Improvement? The study is based on a survey of 87 manufacturing units in Denmark. The sample is segmented into three sub-samples with different levels of experience. Several differences among these three groups of manufacturing units are found and discussed. These differences concern: Continuous Improvement practices, such as motives, content, organisation, support and tools; outcomes, in particular CI performance; and context, such as manufacturing unit size. Some implications for the path of Continuous Improvement evolution are suggested.