Continuous Process Improvement (CPI): Definition and Techniques

Continuous process improvement (CPI) ensures that your business survives and strives in the long-term. By constantly re-evaluating and improving business processes, your organization will be more efficient, innovative and agile.

If you look at all the big or successful companies today, you’ll rarely find one that doesn’t audit and analyzes their processes or products systematically.

What is Continuous Process Improvement (CPI)?

By definition, Continuous process improvement (CPI) is the act of implementing improvements to a product, service or process. These changes can either be incremental (over time) or breakthrough (all at once).

The key here is continuous – CPI isn’t a one-time initiative. You don’t just optimize a certain process once, pat yourself on the back, and call it a day. Once you succeed with a process improvement initiative, you need to periodically look back and see whether there are any changes you could make. Think, adopting new hardware, software, methodology, etc.

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If you’re familiar with other process management terms, you might be a bit confused where CPI stands. Here’s how it’s different from other methodologies…

Business Process Improvement (BPI) – As the name suggests, BPI is the act of improving a process. Continuous process improvement involves carrying out a BPI initiative whenever it’s needed.

Business Process Management (BPM) – BPM is a methodology that helps you manage processes. While Continuous process improvement is an essential part of BPM, a company that does CPI doesn’t necessarily employ BPM.

Kaizen – Kaizen is more related to company culture rather than process improvement. It involves building a culture of innovation and contribution, which allows for continuous process improvement.

Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) Techniques

Enforcing continuous process improvement in your company is up to you. You’ll need to ensure that your employees are motivated enough to carry out BPI initiatives (we’ll explain how to do that in a bit). To help you with actually improving processes, you can use one of the many continuous improvement tools

Business Process Mapping

Chances are, you don’t really know every one of your business processes by heart. To get a better idea of the hows and whys of the process you’re working on, you’ll need to create a business process map. The simplest way is to create a flowchart including different process steps. So, for example, here’s a process map for employee onboarding

BPMN 2 employee onboarding workflow example

For creating the map, you have three options…

  • Pen & Paper – The easiest way is to just grab a piece of paper and draw the flowchart.
  • Flowchart Software – Dedicated software for creating process maps. The benefit here is that you can share it with your employees digitally.

Once you have a process map, you can use the Deming Cycle technique to improve the process.

 Still not sure how, exactly, process mapping works? We don’t blame you, creating a process map isn’t that easy. Read up our guide to learn the exact steps you need to take in order to successfully map your business processes.

Deming Cycle (PDCA)

The Deming Cycle, also known as PDCA, is a concept introduced by Dr. Edwards Deming. There are 4 steps to it…

  • Plan – Identifying a goal or purpose, formulating a theory, defining success metrics, and putting a plan into action
  • Do – Implementing the plan on a small scale to prove or disprove it’s validity
  • Check – Measuring and monitoring outcomes to test the validity of the plan. This allows for identification of potential problems and areas for improvement
  • Act – Taking the knowledge gained from the previous steps and putting it to use. This can either mean implementing it on a wider scale or restart the cycle and apply the lessons learned to change the plan for the better
 Want to learn more about the Deming Cycle? Read up our complete guide to PDCA

Process Management Software

Once you make improvements to a process, you need to make sure that they stick. Business Process Management Software (BPMS) allows you to do that and more.

You can create a digital process and the software will take care of its execution. Instead of making to let your employee know of any changes to the process, you simply update it within the system and they’ll be automatically notified.

In addition, BPMS automatically routes tasks between your employees, making sure that everyone gets the job done.

 Want to learn more about how the software works? Check out our guide to different BPM solutions.

Creating the Culture for Continuous Process Improvement (CPI)

If you, the manager, personally lead every single process improvement initiative, you’re not likely to make any lasting change. More often than not, it’s the employee that knows how to work with the process best, not their supervisor. You want to empower them with the tools and ability to carry out process improvement when need be.

The key to establishing a culture of continuous process improvement is to make it a part of company culture. It should start top-down from the organization – the C-suite should encourage the management to make suggestions on process improvement. This, in turn, will trickle down from the management to shop-floor employees.

As a given, there should be a system that rewards initiative. Anyone that contributes an idea or two (whether it’s implemented or not) should be encouraged and rewarded.

An example of a system you can use is the “Kaizen Corner.” It’s a place where all of your employees can go and hand in suggestions on how to improve processes. This usually works in three stages

  1. Everyone’s suggestions and considered and evaluated. The employees are made aware of the reasoning for accepting certain suggestions and rejecting others. This helps show your team that their input is valued, whether their suggestions are implemented or not.
  2. To ensure that the employees do a better job in the long-term, you hold training on process analysis.
  3. Offer different incentives for employees to help with process improvement. This can be in the form of bonus pay, physical gifts, etc.

Once you’ve got the culture down, you should also consider creating a special team for breakthrough innovation. Your average employees are great at helping with incremental innovations – finding minor faults in the process and proposing suggestions.

For breakthrough innovation, you’ll need a more specialized team consisting of engineers. There will be times when adopting new technology, for example, could make a process 2x more effective. A team of specialists will help find such situations and create more complex solutions.

Process consultant and author Ron Ashkenas describes the need for and benefits of this type of balance:

“Question whether processes should be improved, eliminated, or disrupted. … For example, a six sigma team in one global consumer products firm spent a great deal of time streamlining information flows between headquarters and the field sales force, but didn’t question how the information was ultimately used. Once they did, they were able to eliminate much of the data and free up thousands of hours that were redeployed to customer-facing activities.”

A combination of incremental and breakthrough innovation will ensure that your company is as efficient as it could be, giving you an edge over any competition.


What’s YOUR experience with continuous improvement? Do you have any tips or tricks that can help make the adoption process easier? Let us know down in the comments!

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