Understanding Digital Continuous Improvement

Written by: Emily Himes

Read Time: 5 min

What is digital continuous improvement?

Continuous Improvement (CI), the ongoing process of making your manufacturing floor more efficient, streamlined, and sustainable, has been a longtime shop floor strategy to gain a competitive edge. While traditional approaches to CI may garner high amounts of data and solve problems, they are often time consuming, and lack prioritized actionable insights. Digitizing your CI streamlines data analysis and helps prioritize actionable conclusions by providing visibility into the most critical production bottlenecks, and self-measures the results, eliminating any guess work.

Why is digital continuous improvement important?

With ever changing demands, product complexity, and workforce challenges, manufacturers are continuously tasked to do more with less. That's why over 50% of manufacturing organizations illustrated an increased interest in CI in the last year as an approach to overcome shop floor challenges, with nearly the same amount maintaining their current level of interest in the initiative.

Digital CI is a game-changer for improvement efforts because it enables manufacturers to connect to existing systems and unify real-time data across Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) that are often separate. With this increased access and visibility, manufacturers can see how much lost time a specific problem is causing relative to all other problems, so plant managers can start with the biggest time loss cause, implement a change, and move on to the next most impactful bottleneck—creating a new approach to continuous improvement and enabling factories to measure problems and priorities with agility.

What are the benefits of digital continuous improvement?

Visual management

Visual management provides a framework for teams to communicate manufacturing goals, performance, initiatives, and other metrics regarding operations. It allows manufacturers to set up a visual scorecard of all relevant and necessary information on the factory floor. If put into consistent practice, these visual cues can help:

  • Boost team involvement by providing clarity and direction to initiatives and performance goals
  • Heighten efficiency through the use of intuitive visual cues and reminders
  • Reduce waste with visual aids that clearly display the status of manufacturing tasks
  • Create safer manufacturing processes by providing visual reminders of safety protocols on the factory floor

Cross-function collaboration

Sometimes, improvements have to come from the joint efforts of multiple teams. Cross-function collaboration occurs when employees from varying operational areas come together to achieve a shared goal. Effective cross-function collaboration can generate major business wins, such as:

  • Employee knowledge sharing, which allows people with different skillsets to provide assistance and insights on any given topic
  • Alignment of organizational goals across multiple teams, providing a unified approach to problem-solving
  • Quicker implementation by effectively closing knowledge and resource gaps
  • Heightened innovation by taking a greater array of expertise and viewpoints into account, such as bridging engineering and manufacturing teams

Organizational alignment

Organizational alignment is the practice of coordinating procedures, resources, knowledge, and ideas for the betterment of the organization. Alignment can take place across operational teams, physical locations, or management levels within an organization. Similar to cross-function collaboration, organizational alignment can open the door for knowledge sharing and innovation, however, the most effective changes require a transparent company culture open to consistent communication and feedback.

Impact reporting

Impact reporting – the practice of creating a report that showcases the positive impact of recent changes to an organization – is a great way to showcase the benefits of implementing a digital CI strategy. Measuring the impact of changes is an integral part of any CI effort – without officially recording changes, it is difficult to determine whether your goals were reached. It is critical that KPIs and metrics used for reporting align to P&L impact and top operational goals. Further, consistent impact reporting can increase your initiative’s visibility and encourage trust and credibility.

Broadcasts improvement

Digitizing CI allows you to create a repository of best practices, fixes, and repeated problem solutions to share best practices and optimize CI across the organization. Broadcasting CI efforts is a sure-fire way to spread awareness of best practices, initiate cross-function collaboration, and recognize the drivers of the process. True CI requires all hands-on deck, so ensuring that everyone involved is looped into improvement wins (or setbacks) can help keep the process moving forward.

The PDCA cycle for digital continuous improvement


For CI efforts to have a lasting impact, you must start by identifying your problem or opportunity and prioritizing it against the other hundreds of opportunities on the shop floor. Establish short- and long-term goals, determine the appropriate steps to achieve them, and make sure to consider all the available information to create the most impactful plan.


Leverage real-time and in-context data to identify the root cause of the issue rather than the symptoms. As your team is taking action, be sure to collect and analyze data related to your changes to be used in the next step of the cycle – this can include information about problem areas and any noticeable differences in performance.


Assess how the newly implemented changes affect performance. What differences are evident? Do you notice any improvements? Are there any areas that seem to be performing worse than before? If the adjustments did not yield your anticipated improvements, it might be worth returning to step one of this process and redefining your plan. The benefit of digital CI is that all of the data is continuously measured and tracked so you can always go back to the root cause. If the new performance is satisfactory, you’re ready to move forward and formally implement the new solution. Without a thorough and well-rounded assessment, it will be difficult to understand if, and how, implementing certain changes can help your manufacturing floor – or if you need to shift your focus altogether.


Standardize your actions and implement your changes, but remember – improvement should always be continuous. Even when the results are favorable, it’s important to stay vigilant and always look for ways to adapt and optimize to maintain the competitive advantage. If continuous improvement is treated as a one-time fix rather than a long-term culture of advancement, manufacturing teams could be susceptible to a lack of consistency and decreased engagement.

What role does continuous improvement play in digital transformation?

Digital transformation is not an end goal, but an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and attention. Therefore, continuous improvement is at the core of any digital transformation initiative. Without a perpetual effort aimed at building on and enhancing your manufacturing process, true digital transformation cannot take place.

Solve for continuous improvement challenges with PTC’s solutions for manufacturing

PTC's manufacturing solutions enhance digital CI efforts by shortening the amount of time it takes to identify – and therefore fix – problems on the factory floor. If your organization could benefit from:

  • Real-time data for faster corrective actions
  • Increased efficiency on the manufacturing floor
  • Heightened employee engagement

PTC’s manufacturing solutions help identify the root causes of time loss, so you can optimize your production procedures faster to meet increased demand. And by digitizing your continuous improvement initiatives, you can measure and repeat your best practices to create a long-lasting competitive advantage. 

If your organization encounters challenges such as labor shortages, throughput issues, and rising costs, there are plenty of ways to get operations back on track. To validate the direction that makes sense for your organization, it can help to understand how other organizations are approaching the problem.

How Market Leaders are Making Huge Gains with Continuous Improvement

How are manufacturing leaders using real-time data analytics to support improved efficiency and revenue growth? Take a look at our latest infographic to understand how to achieve upwards of 60% faster time-to-value. Learn More
Tags: Industrial Internet of Things Thingworx Industrial Equipment

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.