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What is the process of continuous improvement?

According to Svozilová (2011), the process of continuous improvement takes place if there is continuous innovation, within the set "rules of the game" and it works in such a way that the company does what it usually does, but tries to do it better. The process of continuous improvement should include six steps, which are enshrined in international ISO standards:

  1. finding the reason for improvement
  2. description of the current situation
  3. preparation of the analysis of the basic cause of the problem
  4. evaluation of effects
  5. application and standardisation of the new solution
  6. evaluation of process efficiency and effectiveness


The term Kaizen, a Japanese term, consists of two characters, where the character kai means to change or replace the old with the new and the character zen means good, in free translation change for the better (Svozilová, 2011). Incorporating innovations are used when implementing the Kaizen method, innovation is introduced in small steps, which in itself brings dramatic results. Kaizen thinking is process-oriented because it believes that processes must be improved first in order for results to improve. To ensure the success of the Kaizen method, it is essential that top management demonstrate.

Lean management

The concept of lean management is by definition very similar to the muda method, ie the search for parts of the process that do not bring any added value to the final product.

Svozilová (2011) adds that the goal of lean thinking is to achieve a systematic arrangement in a simple direct way. The main principles of lean management, according to Svozilová (2011), are:


  • Determining value from the customer's point of view, where value is defined in price and time to meet customer needs.
  • When identifying the activities that contribute to the gradual creation of value, it is a matter of determining all steps or stages of the process in the production of a product from product design to the final product. Setting up processes, where processes provide the opportunity for each participant to add value to the final product.
  • Management by customer needs, at this point the traditional approaches to production, namely mass production, are changing. According to the lean management method, it should be produced only when the customer requests it and only as much as the customer wants.
  • It follows that it is not permissible to produce extra products which are subsequently put into storage followed by an attempt to sell what we have.
  • Striving for perfection, the goal is to achieve perfection in terms of eliminating unnecessary costs that do not add value to the final product, preventing errors and defects or reducing the time to produce the product.

Method 5S

The 5S method is derived from the Kaizen philosophy and consists of five Japanese words:

Seiri (sort) sorts all items in the workplace into unnecessary and necessary and then removes the unnecessary ones. All things can be divided into three categories: those that are unnecessary and can be thrown away, those that are used only occasionally, and those that are used every day. After sorting, unnecessary things are taken away and space is saved.

Seiton (straighten) adjusts things according to the degree of use so that finding them takes a minimum of time. In addition to the location, the number of pieces that can be in the workplace must also be specified.

Seiso (scrub) eliminates the mess, which is easier to find on clean machines, for example, it may be an oil leak, which is easier to detect on a clean machine than on a dirty one. For this reason, all work surfaces and storage areas are kept free of dirt.

Seiketsu (systematise) ensures that the previous three rules will continue to be followed and their implementation will not be unnecessary. Therefore it is about proposing standards that will be adhered to in order to prevent previous bad habits. Standards should be developed with employees to avoid the problem of coercion following subsequent implementation by management. Standards are meant to make work easier, not more complicated.

Shitsuke (standardise) is a challenge for employees to follow these rules. A control element, such as audits, should be put in place.

Process evaluation

The process is effective if its output reaches the planned and required parameters, both qualitative and quantitative. On the other hand, the process is effective if the added value is achieved when all required and planned parameters are achieved, which internal or external customers will appreciate. Considering Pareto's principle of process efficiency, it can be said that the process is optimally efficient if 80% of the result is obtained with 20% of the input effort.

The process is evaluated in terms of performance (efficiency, effectiveness of the process), and variability (variability of the process due to internal and external influences).


Process performance measurement

If we want to regulate processes, we must measure their performance. An important aspect of performance measurement is to determine measuring points. Both process outputs and inputs should be measured. What to measure will depend on what is going to be analysed. During the actual process, the number of measuring points must correspond to the possibilities of variability. If we only measured inputs and outputs, we would never be able to identify the causes of deviations from the requirements that may arise at any point in the process.


Processes to measure are suggested below:

1. Universal performance measurement indicators:
a. running time of the process
b. effective use of process time
c. total process costs
d. cost-effective use
e. share of discrepancies in the process
f. value added by the process (Sigma eligibility level, number of registered deviations), etc.

2. Production process performance indicators:

a. average profitability per employee
b. machine and process capability indices
c. material turnover
d. share of non-conforming products to outputs
e. efficiency of securing deadlines in production, etc.

3. Performance indicators of non-production processes:

a. before production (marketing, etc.)
b. during production (maintenance, supply, etc.):

i. share of maintenance costs to production costs,
ii. inventory turnover, etc.

c. after the end of production (service, etc.):

i. share of fulfilled complaints on time and other obligations of customer service,
ii. costs of complaints, etc.

Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA)

The PDCA cycle can be used to solve a problem or to introduce changes. The steps of PDCA can be repeated, if necessary, thus creating gradual improvements.

This approach for solving problems and managing change consists of four consecutive steps:


P - Plan - the cycle begins with obtaining information and a description of the problem, which is used to prepare the plan. The plan should include the individual actions that need to be taken to address the problem.
D - Do - after the plan is developed, the next step is to implement the described activities.
C - Check – involves monitoring of the achieved results and comparing them against the plan. This helps to see if the original problem is really being solved.
A - Act - if the result is different than expected and the problem is not solved, the cause of the problem should be identified and the cycle is repeated. If the problem is successfully resolved, the last and final step must be taken, all necessary changes implemented / standardised in the processes or system.


PDCA can be applied in a wide range of disciplines, for example:

  1. Production
  2. Logistics
  3. Information Systems
  4. Quality Systems
  5. Management

6. Marketing

Fishbone Analysis

Fishbone Analysis (Ishikawa diagram or Cause and Effect Chart) is a graphical tool used to explore the causes of a given consequence and helps in chosing the most effective solution to the problem.

Fishbone Analysis, as seen in Figure 1, is a simple tool for gathering information about processes, results, and process performance in order to improve them.

Carrying out a Fishbone Analysis is a team effort, including both those affected by the problem and those who can bring a new perspective to the solution without the so-called "operational blindness".

Figure 1: Fishbone Analysis

Fishbone Analysis is used to:

  1. Analyse the variability of an existing process
  2. Define potential factors that could lead to the desired results
The categories of causes explored in Fishbone Analysis include:
  1. Materials
  2. Equipment
  3. Methods
  4. People
  5. Environment
Evaluating the results of the Fishbone Analysis, involves:
  1. determining the most probable causes of the analysed problem
  2. identification of the most important causes
  3. analysis of the most important causes



A group activity to help find a conclusion for specific problems and can be used when conducting a Fishbone Analysis.

  1. A moderator invites team members to suggest causes of a problem
  2. The process is usually carried out within a specific timeframe
  3. All ideas are recorded in a diagram
  4. All ideas are analysed and evaluated

Brainstorming is based on the principles of creative thinking - association and modification.

Five Whys

Experience has shown that asking the question "Why?" five times in a row is an effective method to get to the root cause of a problem. The example below shows how Five Whys can be applied.


For example, in TPS (Toyota Production System), "5 Why" analysis is used much more than Six Sigma. Toyota's success proves that a complex analysis tool such as Six Sigma is not always the right thing to do. "5 Why" is simple and very effective. Taiichi Ohno emphasizes that the real solution to the problem requires knowledge of the "deepest cause" rather than the source of the problem. The deepest cause is usually hidden behind such a source.

The "5 Why" analytical procedure is often used in Toyota as part of a process called "Practical Problem Solving". Instructors who teach this methodology at Toyota find that the most difficult part is learning this thorough "knowledge of the situation" before performing the "5 Why" analysis. The starting point for understanding the situation is a sensitive observation of the situation and its comparison with the standard. To clarify the problem, you then need to first go to the place where the problem occurred - observe the problem.


The following parent/child dialogue shows how 5 Whys can be used.

Question 1: Dad, why isn't the car running?
Answer: Because it doesn't have gas.

Question 2: And why doesn't it have gas?
Answer: Because I forgot to buy it.

Question 3: And why did you forget to buy it?
Answer: Because I didn't know we were running out.

Question 4: And why didn't you know we were running out?
Answer: Because it's dark and I can't see the fuel gauge.

Question 5: And why don't you see the fuel gauge?
Answer: Because I didn't replace the cracked light bulb in the instrument panel.

Asking five questions has resulted in discovering the real reason why the car is not running. Dad underestimated the need to replace the cracked light bulb. To buy gas every 100 km, based on answer 2 may temporarily help, but will not completely solve the problem.

Process of continuous improvement

MyVA Project number: 2020-1-SE01-KA226-VET-092491
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. 
The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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