When we speak about Lean, we also speak about continuous improvement. This should not be confused with continual improvement, even though some authors make errors in writing about Lean and use the terms continuous and continual interchangeably.

A commitment to Lean includes a commitment to continuous improvement. This means we are constantly improving all aspects of our organization. In contrast, continual improvement means that every once in a while we set up a project that will improve something specific in the organization.

Continuous improvement is ongoing and becomes embedded in the culture; it goes on without interruption. Continual improvement happens in fits and starts. Although it is better than no improvement at all, it doesn’t meet the definition of what we are seeking within Lean.

If your organization implements Kaizen events each month, with a goal of working on rapid improvement activities, then they are actually using continual improvement. Continuous improvement is evident when Lean tools are part of daily management, rather than being a special or celebrated occasion.

Including Lean philosophy in daily management activities might look like this:

  • Managers and team leaders making the most of teachable moments as they happen
  • Senior management applying principles of Genchi Genbutsu (going to see for yourself) and Gemba (where the action is) to stay in touch with day-to-day work
  • A team leader helping an employee perform root cause analysis on a complaint and developing/implementing suggestions for improvement