5 ways how digital tools accelerate Continuous improvement

This article introduces the 5 Whys and PDCA as tools for Continuous improvement in lean manufacturing. We give 5 examples on how to accelerate continuous improvement or KAIZEN with digital tools.

What is Continuous improvement or Kaizen?

The core idea of lean manufacturing is the strive for an ongoing reduction of waste and streamlined processes (see article 8 types of waste). Continuous improvement or in japanese Kaizen describes this quest for excellence. Continuous improvement is generated either bottom up or top down.

The 5 Whys for Continuous improvement

In the top down approach, a certain process is analyzed using tools as “5 Why” to get to the core of a problem. By asking “Why?” five times in a row it is possible to derive at the root cause of a failure. This approach is often conducted by engineers and cross-functional units.

5 Whys example

 A exemplary analysis for the 5 Whys is shown below:

  1. Why did the machine break down? -> Tools got to hot
  2. Why did the tools get hot? -> The throughput of the cooling liquid was to low
  3. Why was the throughput low? -> The pump for the cooling liquid get stuck
  4. Why did the pump get stuck? -> Dirt in the filter
  5. Why was dirt in the filter? -> Pre Filter needs replacement

PDCA for Continuous improvement

Most knowledge about a process usually comes from those executing the process, which is why operators are at the core of continuous improvement. By giving operators the opportunity to propose improvements, a never ending stream of improvement potential is generated. Proposals are usually handed in using pen and paper or mail and discussed in a working group. One method to evaluate such a proposal is the PDCA-cycle. Within this cycle a process improvement is planned, executed and checked in running operations. If it didn't deliver the desired results the process needs to undergo another cycle (see figure1).

PDCA cycle for Continuous Improvement


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How do digital tools facilitate Kaizen?

With digital tools new ways of conducting continuous improvement become reality, boosting the ongoing improvement efforts within the organization.

1. Digital gathering of improvement proposals

Since operators in an agile manufacturing environment are equipped with mobile devices, handing in improvement proposals via digital tools becomes more easily and accessible. A customized improvement app allows submission of proposals supported by picture and/or a short video. Further feedback is gathered by commenting on existing proposals, open for everyone. Eventually, submitted proposals are evaluated by management on a regular basis and feedbacked with another application.

2. Rapid adoption & testing

Digital tools, such as a platform to customize apps enable teams to test proposals fast, since the costs for a first prototype are close to zero. In today’s world projects are often put on hold due to limited resources, for both employee capacity and budget availability. Due to significantly reduced costs and time consumption, such a platform can work as a booster for innovative approaches and improved processes using rapid adoption.


3. A&B test

The simplicity of customizing multiple variations of the same proposal allows simultaneously testing to derive at an optimal solution. This A/B testing approach enables process engineers to benchmark process alternatives against each other and decide on the best one.


4. Self-learning systems

Knowledge about how to handle disruptions and failures is mostly only accessible to operators that directly work with a machine. By using digital tools to send error messages to the operator data is generated. At the same time, the operator documents the necessary steps to solve the issue. Based on the documented measures, the system is able to learn, which measure used to fix an issue in the past and give an appropriate recommendation. The recommendation is now made accessible to other operators across multiple shifts and sites, if issues with similar machines occur. By using such a system, you can create a global knowledge base that works across sites!


5. Rapid rollout & deployment

Several improvement proposals are often neglected, due to the high efforts for adjusting legacy systems. Digital tools that have the possibility to connect to any interface, can work with existing data and logic without interfering with existing structures. That way improvements can rapidly be rolled out and set to operational use without starting expensive software projects to adjust existing systems.


The Workerbase Connected Worker Platform enables your organization to become truly innovative by putting operators at the center of improvement. Usually, knowledge and experience about processes is only accessible to operators, thus putting the operators at the core of continuous improvement is key to success. The digital way of conducting continuous improvement is faster, easier and less bureaucratic, introducing a playful way to rapidly grow buy-in and acceptance of operators.

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