Educational Resources

​​​​Continuous improvement methodologies

​​Graphic showing how the stages in the PDCA, DMAIC, and A3 methodologies overlap Which methodology should I use?

There are many improvement methodologies used in Wisconsin state agencies. However, almost all of these methodologies are nearly identical. Other than the 5S approach, which is used to clean and reorganize a work space, the methodologies follow the same basic steps.

These steps include:

  1. Identifying a problem
  2. Collecting 'before' data
  3. Determining root causes
  4. Implementing solutions​​
  5. Collecting 'after' data 

Because these methodologies are so similar, we recommend using whatever methodology is most popular in your organization while recognizing that the methodology itself is not what's important. What's important is that you're solving problems so that Wisconsin's state government can better serve its citizens and taxpayers.  

To see how the most common methodologies overlap, please see the figure on the right.

Are there any important dif​ferences?

Not really. The main differences often relate to what tools are used or how quickly the projects are completed. For example, the terms "Kaizen Event" and "Rapid Improvement Event" are often used to describe a continuous improvement effort that occurs in a week or less. Other than the shortened timeframe, these projects still follow the same steps as any other improvement effort. As a result, we avoid using these terms to reduce confusion.​




A procedure for creating and maintaining an organized, clean and high performance workplace. The five S's are: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.


A high-level summary of a project using five PowerPoint slides presented in five minutes. This presentation usually occurs after a project has been completed and its results have been measured.


An approach to documenting work during a Lean project by putting all relevant information on one page. The term ‘A3’ refers to the size of the paper that is typically used when the information is printed out. ​


​This acronym stands for continuous improvement. In the State of Wisconsin, we use this term to describe any effort that saves time, reduces frustration, or cuts unnecessary costs. 


​This acronym stands for Design, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This methodology is currently the most popular approach in the industry, but its basic steps are the same as any Lean project. 


​Japanese for 'change for the better'. Kaizen events follow the same steps as all other Lean projects but often occur in a single week. This term is used interchangeably with 'Rapid Improvement Event'. 


Lean focuses on eliminating waste in a process. In the State of Wisconsin, this term used to be used more frequently. Now, we typically refer to Lean projects as continuous improvement efforts. 


​These acronyms stand for Plan-Do-Check-Act and Plan-Do-Study-Act, respectively. This methodology is most common in the healthcare field, but it​ follows the same basic steps as any Lean project. 


​This acronym stands for quality improvement. This term is synonymous with continuous improvement. Like continuous improvement, quality improvement ​efforts are focused on saving time, reducing frustration, and cutting unnecessary costs. 


​This acronym stands for Rapid Improvement Event and is synonymous with the term ‘Kaizen’. Rapid Improvement Events are Lean projects that occur in a shortened timeframe. 

​Six Sigma

​A statistical approach to continuous improvement that focuses primarily on reducing variation and defects. While this approach is common in manufacturing settings, it’s often difficult to apply in the government and is usually not needed. 


​This acronym stands for Value Stream Mapping, which is an improvement approach that focuses primarily on process mapping and collecting data for each process step. It follows the same basic steps as all other methodologies.