Continuous Improvement: The Simple Philosophy That Can Help Your Business Thrive

Continuous Improvement, The 1% rule, or Marginal Gains, whatever terminology you want to call it, they are all similar in philosophy and application. It is the idea of focusing on small incremental improvements to grow your business easily. The most successful businesses are always striving to improve to stay ahead of their competition.

In this blog I’ll explain how the philosophy of small incremental improvements can improve your business. This is a technique that many successful companies use in addition to Lean Thinking – a company’s philosophy of eliminating waste. It has been used for decades and can be found in micro businesses right through to corporate business models across industry and service sectors.

I’ve been a lean Sensei for 25+ years and implemented these small incremental changes in Hairdressers to Big Corporate Manufacturers. By implementing these marginal gains, it’s possible to make a huge impact on the performance of your company in a relatively short period of time. It’s Simple! and the data has proven time and time again that this method works!

You CAN NOT ignore the role of Continuous Improvement in business – and here’s why.

What is Continuous Improvement?

“Be Better Today Than You Were Yesterday, Plan To Be Better Tomorrow Than You Are Today” is a quote I have lived by for 25+ years of my working career.

The 1% Rule is a relatively new contender but has now become a business management philosophy that states that you should focus on improving your product or service by at least 1% every day. It was developed by Sir Dave Brailsford, former performance director of British Cycling, and used as a means to achieve micro improvement in the British Cycling Team. The concept behind the 1% rule is simple: if you focus on small improvements, you can achieve significant results over time.

The concept of the 1% rule in my opinion is based on Kaizen, which is Japanese for “continuous improvement.” Kaizen was first introduced to the Western World in the 1970s by Toyota, who taught that companies should embrace a culture of continuous improvement rather than trying to maximise efficiency one big hit at a time. Kaizen aims to reduce inefficiency in its 3 major forms. These are muda (waste), muri (overburdening work), and mura (inconsistency of work).

When we look at these strategies, we can see how the power of tiny gains really makes a difference.

1% Improvement Every Day 1.01365 = 37.78%

1% Decline Every Day 0.99365 = 0.03%

How does the Continuous Improvement work in business?

The PDCA Cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle, is a model for continuous improvement that uses four phases to drive process changes through the organisation. This linked to the 3 forms of in-efficiency, muda (waste), muri (overburdening work), and mura (inconsistency of work) gives a superb structure and focus for all employees.

The PDCA Cycle Explained:

Plan: In this phase, you identify a problem or opportunity for improvement. You also create a plan for how to solve the problem or capitalise on the opportunity.

Do: In this phase, you carry out your plan and implement your solution.

Check: In this phase, you review your work to see if it was successful in achieving its objectives and if there are any unintended consequences of your actions.

Act: In this phase, you make adjustments based on what you learned in the check phase and continue with another iteration of the cycle to drive continuous improvement.

By continuously improving your processes, your organisation can achieve higher levels of performance at lower cost. This not only improves customer satisfaction but also helps an organisation achieve its goals faster.

The key to this and building on the marginal gains is to empower everyone to make these short, sharp improvement cycles small enough to be managed at a local level. This will enable them to use their creativity and judgment to find the most effective solution for their teams and customers.

The second aspect of this is that the improvements have to be visible and celebrated. This is not just about being proud of what you have achieved, but also about helping others see what you have done. This creates an environment where people are constantly looking for new ways to improve, which in turn leads to innovation.

The third aspect is that it has to be built into every process in a business. You cannot expect people just to do it because you asked them to – they need processes that encourage continuous improvement across everything they do from how they order stock through the distribution system all the way through customer support.

Why use the Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement is a process that can be used in every business setting of all sizes and all sectors, from small businesses to large corporations.

It’s Good for Business

The benefits of continuous improvement can be seen throughout the business world. By using this approach, companies are able to stay competitive while providing better quality products and services at lower prices. This helps them grow their customer base while increasing their profit margin through increased sales volume.

It’s Good for Employees

Continuous improvement is also good for employees because it provides them with job security. If you have implemented a continuous improvement program in your company, then you have created an environment where everyone is constantly making improvements which makes your company more competitive in the marketplace and less likely to be outsourced in favour of cheaper labour costs elsewhere.

  • People feel empowered because they have more opportunities for growth and development.
  • Employees feel more engaged because they feel like their work matters and makes a difference.
  • The company attracts better talent because employees want to work for companies that are doing great things for their customers.

Does Continuous Improvement really work?

Yes! Continuous Improvement absolutely works!

I’ve implemented and completed Lean Thinking and Continuous Improvement Projects in 100+ businesses over my career and have no doubt on the impact it can make.

On my very first project back in the 1990’s we took a machine change over from 480 mins to sub 20 mins, saving a £250K capital expenditure. As Senior Exec I’ve saved £10m+ year on year through the implementation of Continuous Improvement. I’ve seen every employee within a business take pride in completing numerous small incremental changes that compound in delivering a huge result.

In order to achieve these results, you need to be prepared to put in the work. It’s not an overnight process—it takes patience as well as an unwavering commitment to creating positive change at every level of your organisation. But once you’ve seen the first results, you’ll find it’s worth every minute invested!

You’ve only got to read some of our Case Studies to realise the potential.

Takeaway: Challenging yourself and your employees to make small improvements every day can have a dramatic effect on your overall business growth.

Leadership Standard Work: Strengthening the Core of Manufacturing Management

Effective leadership is paramount in steering organisations toward success. Leadership Standard Work (LSW) represents a transformative approach that embeds discipline, visibility, and accountability into the daily routines of leaders at all levels. At its core, LSW is a systematic, documented set of behaviours and activities that are fundamental to driving performance improvement and organisational success. Let’s delve deeper into this concept and how it can be actualised in your manufacturing environment.

The Pillars of Leadership Standard Work

Leadership Standard Work revolves around several key behaviours that align with the fundamental lean principles of continuous improvement and respect for people. These include:

  1. Go and See (Gemba): Regular, scheduled visits to the place where work happens to observe processes and engage with frontline workers.
  2. Ask Why: Applying the five-whys technique to uncover the root cause of issues, thus fostering a culture of problem-solving.
  3. Show Respect: Creating an environment in which every team member feels valued and their input is considered critical for continuous improvement.

Standard Work vs. Leadership Standard Work

Standard Work and Leadership Standard Work are twin pillars in high-functioning manufacturing environments, but they cater to different yet complementary aspects of operational excellence. To understand the distinction and the interplay between the two, let’s expand and explore.

Standard Work: The Bedrock of Consistent Quality

Standard Work is a detailed outline of the optimal current method for performing a particular task or process. It encompasses the best practices identified through continuous improvement efforts and is designed for workers at the operational level to ensure consistency and efficiency. Essentially, it’s the “what” and “how” of the daily tasks:

  • Documented Processes: Clear, concise instructions for performing a task that anyone in the role can follow for consistency.
  • Time Elements: Standard time taken for each task helps in scheduling and balancing workloads in a lean manufacturing system.
  • Sequence of Operations: An optimised sequence for carrying out tasks to reduce waste and ensure efficiency.
  • Quality Checkpoints: Built-in quality inspection points within the workflow to ensure defects are caught and corrected early.
  • Tools and Materials: Identifying and arranging necessary tools and materials to minimise movement and waiting times.

Standard Work is the baseline framework from which continuous improvements are identified and applied. It creates an environment where output quality becomes predictable, and processes become more transparent and efficient. As changes are made through kaizen (continuous improvement) activities, Standard Work documents are updated to reflect the new best practices.

Leadership Standard Work: Enhancing Management Effectiveness

In contrast, Leadership Standard Work turns the spotlight onto the roles of leaders and managers within an organisation. It pertains to the “who,” “when,” and “why” – focusing on leadership behaviours and activities that ensure the Standard Work and all other processes are effective, sustainable, and continuously improving.

  • Routine for Leaders: It includes scheduled checks and observations, regular meetings, and audits ensuring that operations are running according to the documented Standard Work.
  • Performance Monitoring: Involves reviewing key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure that targets are met, and progress is made toward strategic goals.
  • Problem Escalation: Leaders address issues that frontline employees cannot resolve on their own, bringing a systemic approach to solving workflow interruptions.
  • Mentorship and Development: LSW emphasises developing staff; leaders schedule time to coach and mentor employees, reinforcing a culture of learning and improvement.
  • Change Management: Leaders are tasked with managing and guiding change within the organisation, ensuring that new practices are smoothly integrated and accepted.

LSW provides a blueprint for leaders to follow that ensures they are supporting the Standard Work done at all levels. By managing their time around core leadership tasks and creating a routine aligned with operational processes and goals, leaders ensure that they are not only providing direction but are also supporting and enabling their teams.

Symbiosis and Synergy

Both Standard Work and Leadership Standard Work are vital to sustaining lean manufacturing methodologies. While Standard Work prescribes “the way work is done,” LSW ensures “the way work is led.” In practice, one cannot be successful without the other. Standard Work without supportive Leadership Standard Work may lead to drifts in practice and gradual decline in outcomes as frontline employees may not feel supported or held accountable to maintain improvements. Conversely, Leadership Standard Work without solid Standard Work lacks the baseline consistency required for meaningful leadership activities, leading to disorganised efforts and suboptimal resource allocation.

The synergy between the two establishes a robust system where process efficiency is maintained and continuously improved upon, and where organisational goals are met with consistency through engaged leadership. Leaders reinforce the Standard Work by verifying its application and encouraging continuous improvement, while frontline workers carry out the carefully designed Standard Work, knowing that their efforts are supported and that there’s a framework for escalating and resolving issues. This creates a dynamic loop of performance and productivity that underpins a culture of excellence.

Implementing Leadership Standard Work

To effectively implement LSW, leaders must first understand their roles and establish a set of activities that align with organisational goals. For example:

  • For a Team Leader or Supervisor:
    • Starting the shift with a brief team huddle to discuss the agenda, safety topics, and performance metrics.
    • Routine checks for adherence to 5S standards and progress on action items.
    • Direct, on-the-floor coaching, and problem-solving sessions with team members.
  • For a Senior Manager or General Manager:
    • Weekly or bi-weekly Gemba walks to maintain firsthand knowledge of operations and employee concerns.
    • Participation in cross-departmental meetings to ensure alignment on strategic objectives.
    • Reviewing KPIs and ensuring that audit protocols are being followed to maintain high standards of quality and safety.

Each level of leadership standard work varies in scope and frequency, but the underlying principles remain the same.

Leadership Standard Work Audit

The Impacts of Effective Leadership Standard Work

By embracing LSW, manufacturing organisations can expect several key benefits:

  • Problem-Solving: Frontline associates, empowered to raise issues, drive a culture of immediate problem-solving rather than reactive fire-fighting.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regular practice of LSW ensures that improvement becomes habitual, not just a one-off event.
  • Developing Leaders: Provides a framework for nurturing future leaders by exposing them to strategic thinking and decision-making processes.
  • Performance Gains: Continuous focus on goals and metrics tends to accelerate performance improvements.
  • Team Culture: Promotes a sense of ownership at all levels, leading to stronger team bonding and collaboration.

Case Studies and Evidence

The practice of LSW isn’t theoretical; it has been successfully integrated into numerous organisations. As we implemented and embedded this within Unipart in the late 90’s early 20’s it highlighted its effectiveness. LSW was introduced across the organisational hierarchy, from team leaders to the managing director, driving substantive improvements and embedding a proactive and positive culture. Just one of the many implementations we have done throughout the years since.

The Leadership Pyramid

Visualising LSW through a leadership pyramid can provide clarity on the distribution of responsibilities and activities at all levels. It emphasises the importance of foundation work by team leaders, the managerial oversight, and strategic vision at the upper tiers of the pyramid.


Leadership Standard Work is the engine that propels the continuous improvement vehicle forward. It provides predictability, structure, and a means by which leaders can methodically contribute to the organisation’s overall well-being while developing their teams. In embracing LSW, manufacturing organisations are not merely investing in a set of tasks; they are nurturing a culture of excellence, responsibility, and innovation that echoes through every layer of the company’s fabric.

For manufacturing leaders seeking sustainable improvement and cohesive teams, leadership standard work isn’t a choice—it’s an essential strategy in the modern manufacturing playbook.

If you need support or want to know more about Leadership Standard Work please do contact us

 0330 311 2820

One of the Least used Tools – Standardised Work

Standardised Work is one of the most powerful but least used tools within business, yet it is one of the foundations to Lean Manufacturing

From my experience “without standards we do not have continuous improvement only chaos”.

The declarations I have heard, “we don’t make cars”, “You see, we are different”, “We’re unique….this isn’t an assembly line!

My response to such statements is “everyone works a process that process can either be destroying or creating value added for the customer, which would you rather it be. Whether you’re building cars or delivering life-saving patient care, it takes a sequence of highly coordinated tasks and processes to deliver the end result. When this sequence of tasks is standardised, you’re on your way to fundamentally improving and eliminating significant sources of waste.

Standardised work is the simple understanding that every task that can be repeated requires a written instruction of the most efficient and effective way to complete it to the highest quality Standard. We then use the selected standard work process each time the task is performed ensuring that the same results are achieved, in the same amount of time, regardless of who completes the task.

Now, we must understand here that the first step is to document what the current best practice is, this may be not be delivering the outcome you require currently, but without first understanding, how will you control any changes and what improvements have had what effect? We can’t, it would be guess work!

Key Elements of Standard Work

  • TAKT
  • Process Capacity Table
  • Work Combination Table
  • Work Layout
  • Standard Operating Procedure

Standard Work Documents

Takt Time – “Takt” is a German word which refers to the pace or beat of a musical composition, the metronome. The calculation of Takt time gives us the rate of production for meeting customer demand

Work sequence – “The time for an employee to do a prescribed task and return to his original stance.” – Taiichi Ohno
Standard inventory – In manufacturing this refers to parts, but in other sectors it can refer to applications, data inputs or other resources necessary to perform the job.

Bear in mind the following

Involve employees in the process – they are the ones who determine the best practice for each task. This also helps ensure engagement and ultimately adherence to the standard work.

Focus on the details – it must be in-depth to be useful in reducing variation. No detail should be omitted. Even the little nuances need to be understood, these are improvements that can be engineered out. (I can remember a process I worked with where the Associate had to lean on one part for the other part to fit, a stack up of tolerances had occurred. This knack had to be written in the standard work until we could engineer it out, imagine the amount of lost time/production if others weren’t aware of this)

Use visuals – Images, photographs, diagrams and examples will help bring your standard work definition to life and increase the likelihood of consistent compliance. A picture is worth a 1000 words.

Make it accessible – The documentation must be accessible at the time and place that the work is to be performed.

Innovate – While you don’t want employees deviating from the standard work process, there must be a method to give consideration to changes when new conditions or new ideas warrant revision. A governance process will increase the likelihood that changes will be analysed and approved rather than being implemented ad-hoc.


0330 311 2820

Book a Return Call at a time that Best Suits You “HERE

The Process of Improvement for any Business


In standardising a process you want to be able to see the Abnormal from Normal conditions. When the process is disrupted by an obstacle or issue, you can see it. The Standardise, Do, Check, Act cycle.


Now you can begin to systematically simplify, Combine, Eliminate the issues to Stabilise the process. Whether it’s achieving TAKT, a cycle time, changeover, order entry, bid-no bid process, etc. The Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle.

Standardise and Stabilise play off of one another. (and you must be applying the rigorous PDCA management process as a business, if you can’t do that or sustain it ultimately you will fail)


The drive towards perfection should always be sort within our processes across all functions, departments, businesses. This is optimisation, in driving for continuous improvement. Once we have standardised and stabilised our processes internally we can also start to look externally within our supply chain and support the SDCA and PDCA within those businesses that are struggling, remember we want a way of understanding the Abnormal from Normal conditions, no reason we can’t apply that in measuring our supply chain and why not pass on the learning, we all benefit. (and I don’t mean how some OEM’s have applied this before, internally a mess but let’s concentrate and beat up the supplier, short termism!)

Optimise also goes hand in hand with Grow in my eyes, all of the improvements align to our Strategy, and our Strategy will have new business, innovation in our products, so optimise and utilise all of those resources to ensure future growth.


Apply the SDCA, PDCA into Sales and Marketing processes. Integrate the tools and techniques of Lean Manufacturing, Operational Excellence with the proven sales methods and drive sustainable increases in sales performance and profitability.

In improving the efficiency of our company’s sales processes, we enable the sales and Customer facing teams to reduce waste and duplication and free up much needed Customer contact time in the sales cycle creating greater customer value.

As the orders come in, we come back to our Standardise and Stabilise cycle and the cycle repeats.

0330 311 2820

Book a Return Call at a time that Best Suits You “HERE