What Is the Cycle of Continuous Improvement? (With Features)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 7, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When individuals and organizations choose to improve aspects of their lives, there are several ways they can accomplish their goals. One effective way to begin an improvement process and continue to improve is with the cycle of continuous improvement. Understanding what this cycle is and how you can maximize its effects can help you continue to improve throughout your career. In this article, we discuss what the cycle of continuous improvement is, explore why it's important, and list the benefits of using this cycle for individuals and organizations.

What is the cycle of continuous improvement?

The cycle of continuous improvement is a way for individuals and organizations to improve themselves or their processes. As time progresses, the goals of the cycle for individuals are to increase their skills and help them reach a specific goal. For organizations, the goal of the cycle can be to reach a specific goal, but it can also be to optimize their processes so they are more efficient, cost less, and produce more. Below are the four parts of the cycle, which you can use to improve yourself and that an organization can use to improve itself:

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While you can start at any part of the cycle, it's usually easiest to start with a plan because it can guide your actions. This part of the cycle is when you identify areas where you want to improve and create a plan to follow. Typically, this involves setting your goals and making sure you can achieve them. One way you can do this is to set SMART goals, which provide specific steps you can follow to meet your goals.

This can also be when you determine your measurements for success. For example, an organization might say being able to produce a specific number of units shows success in the improvement, while an individual may say they can do a certain number of tasks.

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This part of the cycle is when you implement your changes and the goals you create during the planning phase. This can include putting in new procedures and removing old ones that no longer contribute to the efficiency and productivity of an individual or organization. For example, an organization might remove machinery it no longer needs and reduce the space between machines so professionals can move materials faster. An individual might go on short jogs to reach their goal of running a race at the end of the year. Determination and perseverance are important for this part of the process.

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Continuous improvement means you make incremental changes toward a goal. For example, you might start jogging during your evening walks, but after some time, you notice you jog your entire walk. These changes rarely happen by chance, but by examining your stage of improvement. During the check phase of the cycle, you examine changes you've noticed after you implement your plan. You then compare these changes to the goals you set during your planning phase, helping you monitor progress throughout the cycle. Monitoring improvement is important because it can help you determine whether you're close to your goals.

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This is the step of the improvement cycle when you meet all your goals and improvements. An individual meets the goal they set, and an organization implements changes. As you are in this part of the cycle, you can consider areas of improvement for the process. This includes areas where you experienced difficulties, areas where you monitored errors in your system, and adjustments you made to your improvement cycle. This is important because as you continue the cycle with your next planning stage, you can adjust the plans you create, accounting for the errors and difficulties you experienced during this iteration.

Related: How to Write an Action Plan to Help You Achieve Your Goals

Why is the cycle important?

This continuous improvement cycle is important because it creates a system where you can meet goals faster, plan changes, and take action when necessary. For an organization, this system is important because it means it's always improving itself, which means the organization can experience growth. The main point of the continuous improvement cycle is to create growth in individuals and organizations, though it does so by creating incremental goals you can accomplish. Each stage is important because it can help you identify changes you want to make, plan for the effects of those changes, and then implement those changes effectively.

Benefits of continuous improvement

Below are descriptions of the benefits you may experience when you engage in a cycle of continuous improvement:

Increased efficiency

When you apply the continuous improvement cycle to a process, especially a production process, you can experience an enormous increase in efficiency. This is because the cycle allows you to identify locations where production can improve, making it faster or using fewer resources. For example, an organization that produces baskets might notice that it takes a long time for the basket materials to move from machine to machine because there aren't a lot of professionals to move them. To address this specific challenge, the organization may plan to hire more professionals to move materials, which they think can speed up production.

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Increased motivation

The continuous improvement cycle can increase motivation for the professionals and organizations that choose to use it. For individuals, setting a goal and creating a plan can help them make the changes they want because it creates a source of motivation and easy, achievable steps they can follow. For an organization, having a clearly outlined plan that professionals can follow can increase motivation because they know what to expect and the professionals can easily meet their required quotas or production numbers. This can also help management create specific plans to follow to help others achieve their goals within the organization.

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Increased productivity

As the process can improve the efficiency of a process, especially in production facilities, it can also lead to an increase in the productivity of individuals and departments within an organization. This is because more efficient processes require fewer materials and less time to accomplish their tasks, meaning there are more materials to make products with and more time to make them. At an individual level, having goals that communicate the expectations at the end of the cycle can help professionals remain focused as they complete tasks, create new ways to accomplish their tasks, and set effective personal production goals.

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Increased quality

Some professionals may choose to use the extra time they have from making more efficient processes to focus on increasing the quality of the products and services they create. Because the cycle continues to happen, an organization or professional can choose to focus on creating more products or better products at any stage of planning. For example, an organization that recently created more efficient processes for producing cars now spends more time testing their vehicles and changing them to improve how the vehicle behaves during a collision. This creates better products for the organization, helping it meet its safety goals.

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Reduced cost

As the continuous improvement cycle can reduce the number of resources an organization uses to create its products and services, it can also decrease the cost an organization has to create those products. For example, during the action stage of the cycle, the organization realizes it has reduced the materials it uses by 10%, and can now decide whether to create more products or reduce the number of materials it purchases. Seeing an opportunity to increase its profits, the organization chooses the option to decrease its materials, reducing the costs it accrues to produce its services and increasing its revenue.

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