The Guide to Implementing Continuous Improvement Initiatives

Written by: Emily Himes

Read Time: 7 min

What is continuous improvement?

Continuous Improvement (CI) is the ongoing process of making your manufacturing floor more efficient, streamlined, and sustainable; it has long been trusted by those looking to gain or maintain their competitive edge. While traditional CI programs provide significant data, they lack the insights you need to understand and prioritize changes that will make the most impact on your process goals. Digitizing your CI strategy streamlines data analysis and delivers actionable conclusions by providing visibility into your most critical bottlenecks—so you can spend less time guessing where you need to be making adjustments.

Types of continuous improvement

CI looks different at every organization, and smaller, incremental change might work for one while the next needs a major advancement in a smaller amount of time. Both incremental and breakthrough CI initiatives can be effective in achieving all types of manufacturing goals, but timeframe, resources, personnel, and short- and long-term needs will dictate which one works best for you. Additionally, larger organizations with a more robust footprint will find they have different goals and challenges across various lines, facilities, and geography—making digital transformation of CI even more important.

Incremental continuous improvement

  • Incremental CI is focused on many small, gradual changes that make a difference over time. These lower-cost, lower-risk changes can often accumulate to have a larger impact than singular big improvements or breakthrough initiatives.

Breakthrough continuous improvement

Breakthrough continuous improvement involves large-scale change, and these initiatives might be more detailed and complex than incremental ones. They also likely require more resources and time.

What are the four stages of continuous improvement?

The Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA) cycle can help drive important decisions throughout the CI process. Once you’ve completed the “Act” stage of the cycle, move back to “Plan”—that way, you’re always leveraging CI initiatives and looking for ways to improve.


The planning stage is the best time to agree on a vision for your initiative and identify the individual steps needed to achieve it. These short- and long-term goals provide your team with the opportunity to get granular about your initiative, encouraging self-awareness regarding the current situation and setting the stage to enhance your process.


Once you have set achievable goals for your CI initiative, it’s time to put the plan in motion. It’s important to stick to the steps you agreed on in the “Plan” phase – but as you move through the process, keep close tabs on whether the improvements are working, and always be prepared to modify them if necessary.


Once you’ve executed the changes, take time to review the data to make sure your changes made a real, tangible difference. If the changes fell short of your expectations, this is the time to tweak the process further to reach your goals.


Standardize your actions and implement your changes but remember – improvement should always be continuous. CI initiatives are an excellent way to keep tabs on your processes and hold your team accountable – if done correctly, CI will always push your manufacturing floor to a higher level, even when it’s already performing well. The “Act” stage of this cycle gives you the opportunity to go back and take necessary final action, so you can perfect the process, then officially set it in motion.

What are continuous improvement initiatives?

CI initiatives—the ongoing efforts an organization takes to improve its processes over time—can take many forms in a manufacturing environment. Kaizen, Lean, and Six Sigma are all examples of initiatives manufacturers can take to streamline their processes and boost efficiency.

The benefits of continuous improvement initiatives

Improved product quality

Streamlined, efficient manufacturing processes are likely to produce high-quality products more consistently. By optimizing your factory floor, you can reduce bottlenecks, identify defects, and continue adapting to changing market demands.

Increased efficiency and productivity

Even the most efficient factory floors can use further optimization. And because operations are dynamic, as new processes and products are introduced, risks of new inefficiencies will likely emerge. Identifying bottlenecks in real time and optimizing workflows can reduce unnecessary steps and ultimately drive heightened efficiency and productivity.

Decreased cost

While investing in CI initiatives to decrease costs might sound counterintuitive, it’s actually quite simple – the more efficient your factory floor, the higher your cost savings. By identifying and solving for your most pressing bottlenecks, you can decrease lost production time while also reducing costs associated with labor and maintenance.

Reduced waste

CI initiatives such as Lean and Six Sigma both strive to eliminate waste to boost efficiency. When the two initiatives overlap, they can eliminate unnecessary use of labor or resources to make a process more efficient—ultimately minimizing operating costs.

Customer satisfaction

Strong CI initiatives call for a heightened customer focus, and an organization that is responsive to its customers will always have a competitive edge.

Employee satisfaction

Both Lean and Six Sigma initiatives rely on standardized training and offer employees a voice in process improvements. This close involvement in the improvement process can boost morale and drive productivity on the manufacturing floor.

How to measure continuous improvement initiatives


Cost reduction—one of the biggest performance indicators—is an effective way to measure your CI success. By implementing strategies to reduce costs – and therefore boost revenue – organizations can track the actions that proved successful. By continuously taking active measures to reduce costs, manufacturers can engage in a CI process that always aims to improve the top line.


Improving efficiency on your manufacturing floor is another sure-fire way to track your CI initiatives. When you keep track of how long it takes to manufacture one product from start to finish, you can implement initiatives aimed at creating more efficient processes across the board. Even processes that are already efficient can be optimized, so it’s important to adopt a truly continuous mentality when it comes to improving production time. One advantage of a time-based model is that it is extremely adaptable and can be standardized across all types of processes and operations—making it a Rosetta Stone for measuring very diverse activities. This enables CI and quality engineers to measure and prioritize problems in an objective way.


CI initiatives play an important role in employee safety. By continuously reviewing conditions on the manufacturing floor and checking for hazards or other issues, organizations can create a safer environment for their employees. By keeping track of safety incidents on the manufacturing floor, organizations can take action to reduce the frequency of accidents.


While manufacturing organizations probably already keep a close eye on their ROI, it’s important to look at how it changes after implementing improvement initiatives. Improvements in ROI can highlight which CI initiatives are having a positive impact on revenue.


Quality is one of the most straightforward ways for manufacturers to track their CI initiatives, since it’s relatively simple to identify product defects. It's easy to determine whether new initiatives are having a positive impact on the manufacturing floor by keeping track of the number of faulty products produced.

How to implement continuous improvement

Have manageable improvements

It’s important to think big when beginning your CI journey, but starting small is your key to success. Incremental CI can lead to big payoffs over time. By selecting one or two initiatives to start with, your team can successfully track initiatives and their consequences.

Seek feedback

Feedback can highlight areas for improvement that you hadn't even thought of. By routinely seeking feedback from those involved in the manufacturing process, it's easy to determine pain points and understand where improvement is needed the most.

Motivate employees

Implementing change can be difficult, so creating a positive environment for employees is an integral part of the adoption of new CI initiatives. Effective communication and training regarding the goals of CI can motivate everyone toward a shared vision.

Example of continuous improvement initiatives in action

Thermo Fisher Scientific faced an increased demand for a product but struggled with a lack of visibility into the production process. This made identifying and solving for root causes a challenge. PTC’s solutions for manufacturing helped the company standardize its approach to collecting shop floor data and provided a system to prioritize top issues to be solved by CI initiatives.

Continuous improvement with PTC’s manufacturing solutions

Understanding CI benefits is all well and good, but the proof is in the data. Particularly, you’ll want to look for digital CI solutions to reveal how production hours are being used, and the impact of those efforts. To that end, we’ve prepared some examples of real-world impact for Thermo Fisher Scientific, who implemented our Digital Performance Management solution to supercharge their CI efforts.

  • 17% improvement in 6 weeks

By standardizing data collection efforts and normalizing all production losses on the basis of time, Thermo Fisher saw a 17% OEE improvement in just 6 weeks and up to 35% improvement since implementation.

  • Systemize continuous improvement for 20% revenue boost

Thermo Fisher was able to achieve these OEE improvements, as well as a 20% increase in revenue, due to systemic CI initiatives that were widely adopted and led to additional throughput.

  • Eliminate manual data entry

By eliminating manual data entry, the pharmaceutical manufacturer was able to standardize their performance improvement initiatives to identify and solve its most pressing bottlenecks.

  • Boost sustainability

By helping to recover and utilize lost production hours, PTC's solutions for manufacturing help Thermo Fisher and other manufacturing customers address sustainability in the factory in multiple ways:

  • Saving energy by recovering lost production hours.
  • Increasing quality by identifying and eliminating the root causes of scrap.
  • Optimizing machine performance and extending equipment life through programs such as predictive maintenance and equipment health monitoring. By better utilizing current factories and equipment, companies like Thermo Fisher can avoid large-scale investments in buildings and equipment.

There are thousands of potential improvements CI can solve for, but it is difficult to understand which initiatives will result in the greatest business impact. If you're curious how boost your efficiency by 20% like Thermo Fisher Scientific, or how to generate an impactful shift in motivation and mindset like Northrop Grumman, it’s important to first understand how to align the initiatives in your factories with larger business goals.

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About the Author

Emily Himes Emily is a Content Marketing Specialist on PTC’s Commercial Marketing team based in Boston, MA. Her writing supports a variety of PTC’s product and service offerings.