Continuous improvement specialists are masters of process. They assess the effectiveness of a business function and offer recommendations for improvement in accordance with a well-defined body of knowledge. This profession works closely with project managers and quality specialists to identify ways to make things better, including the corporate bottom line.
Continuous improvement specialists practice a form of project management rooted in one of several different approaches to quality improvement. Some practitioners use the Toyota Production System, some use Six Sigma, and others use home-grown methodologies. Generally, this career focuses on improving the outcomes of various processes so that, by mapping all the inputs and outputs of a defined business process, a CI specialist is able to recommend ways to improve efficiency, reduce cost or increase customer satisfaction.
Many continuous improvement specialists have a degree in business or engineering. Although some employers do not require a specific field of study, specialists in focused industries often are required to have a degree -- even a master's degree -- in that industry's area.. In addition, a continuous improvement specialist should have a background in statistics for advanced techniques like statistical process capability during efficiency tests.
Skills and Experience
A CI specialist needs a deep background in the industry in order to understand which improvement options are feasible. Therefore, a solid understanding of applicable regulations, safety protocols, manufacturing tolerances and related data is crucial. For that reason, many specialists are drawn from the ranks of workers who have worked in the industry. In addition, many employers seek candidates who have professional certification, either in Six Sigma or in a related process-improvement skill.
Typical duties for a CI specialist include developing and measuring standard metrics, diagramming the flow, including inputs and outputs, of a business process, identifying opportunities for improvement, developing a project plan for implementing improvements and monitoring the new process to ensure it works as intended. During the course of a normal day, a specialist may spend part of the day preparing reports and statistics, and another part working with front-line staff, identifying improvement opportunities and coaching employees on how to work more efficiently.
Salary and Outlook
In 2013, the median salary of a CI specialist was $64,000. In addition, as businesses try to do more with less, the role of a CI specialist will become increasingly vital, as this job is considered a driver of change that reduces cost and improves efficiency.