A gentleman named Christopher asked this question on LinkedIn and it created a huge stir: “When does continual improvement actually begin?”
My answer was:
It begins in the minds of each worker the second they begin to work. It begins in the hearts of a leader (whether they be employee or manager) the instant they accept responsibility to make things better.
You see, every single employee develops work momentum the more they perform their job. They improve their processes so they can do a better job (or the same job) with less effort. This is the nature of our brains. Human brains love resource efficiency. Since every single employee will be “continuously improving” their work, it’s management’s job to make sure that those “improvement” benefit the company and not just the employee.
The first time someone develops or defines a metric for improvement (As James Dent said in his answer to this question) and that metric is accepted, then that may be the start of an OFFICIAL improvement plan. The improvement continues as long as there is someone to work on it. (Although my husband left his employer years ago, he still offers CI suggestions to his old employer much to their profit and chagrin.)
Bottom line: CI begins when any employee accepts responsibility.