Sustaining Continuous Improvement

I am often asked how to maintain the improvements and gains from continuous improvement efforts. There are many factors, but here are the three most effective that can help make your improvements stick:

  1. Audits

  2. Exception reporting

  3. Metrics

These three areas are part of the overall 5S effort and are included in standardize and sustain.


Audits may seem painful; but, if used correctly, are extremely effective in sustaining results. I added the disclaimer – if used correctly – because audits are meant to point out areas that need additional improvement effort.  If used as a weapon, audits will be avoided and quickly dropped by shop floor personnel. Audits give management a chance to interact with the shop floor and listen to the reasons for noncompliance on an audit. Progressive audits performed routinely that highlight the improvements and are used to uncover additional improvements are very beneficial in sustaining and driving additional improvements.



Exception reporting is another tool that helps maintain and drive additional improvement. The exception report is a way for the shop floor to feed improvement opportunities back to management. We recommend a weekly review of exceptions with the shop floor teams. The exceptions are clear explanations from the shop floor of what is impeding their work.

Exceptions are very important continuous improvement targets. When management reviews exception reports with the shop floor and takes action to make improvements, it shows the shop floor that what is being done is here to stay.



Metrics on the shop floor need to be targeted at what the shop floor can affect such as safety, quality, productivity and schedule completion. A good way to tie metrics to continuous improvement is through the use of hour by hour charts. Break the daily production goal for the work area into hourly segments and post the chart in the work area. If work is faster or slower than targeted, have the team write the exceptions down for the hour. This tool gives supervision a way to see if an area needs help prior to the end of the shift. Exceptions that cannot be dealt with immediately can be brought up in weekly exception meetings.


The most important thing that ties everything together is a management presence on the shop floor. Management has to reinforce the need for improvement and recognize the crews for efforts to date. The more management interacts with the shop floor in a “how can I help you improve” type of attitude, the better improvements will sustain and grow.


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