Cycles of Improvement

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“Once and done” is almost always a wasted effort. It is not enough to reach a certain level of quality leadership and plateau. The real goal is to sustain quality leadership performance, to grow as both a company and as a leader, and to always be striving to improve. Rather than a quick sweep, many organizations will use quality awards as an annual or semiannual cycle to assess and improve themselves. These organizations recognize that achieving and sustaining quality leadership is a journey. With the new Baldrige criteria for 2015–16, an organization must already be a recipient of their state’s quality award, so this is particularly relevant information for any companies thinking about applying within the coming years. (Hopefully, there are many, many of them!)


A typical cycle of improvement might consist of the following:

  1. ASSESS: This involves a comparison of actual performance to the award’s criteria and scoring guidelines. This can be accomplished through an award application or by some other form of self or third-party assessment. Many consulting firms offer self-assessment opportunities, including mock-Baldrige assessments.
  2. PLAN: This involves evaluating the results of the assessment to identify and prioritize the vital few opportunities for improvement.
  3. IMPROVE: This involves carrying out improvement projects and activities to close the vital few opportunities for improvement.Continuous improvement projects that achieve either incremental or breakthrough improvements are both suggested at this stage.
  4. REPEAT: Continue the cycle for multiple iterations.

Multiple cycles of improvement can be achieved using several assessment approaches.

National Quality Awards. One approach is to apply annually for a national quality award, using feedback each year to monitor progress and reprioritize improvement goals. This approach keeps the organization on a set cycle providing a fixed timetable for making important improvements.


Self-Assessments. Another approach is to begin with self-assessments for the first few iterations of improvement. One advantage to this approach is that the organization is not tied to the awards process cycle, with the possibility of faster cycles of improvement if desired. This approach is also attractive to the organizations that aspire to “award-winning” levels of performance with no intention of applying for award recognition.

State and Local Quality Awards. Many organizations have applied for state and/or local quality awards for early cycles of improvement while preparing for a national quality award application. It is often easier to get a site visit with alternative awards processes, which can provide a more thorough assessment of the current state than can be obtained through an application-only feedback report.

Quite often, national quality award winners have gone through multiple cycles of the awards process prior to becoming a recipient. These organizations have used the application process and the feedback reports to continually identify the top priorities for improvement planning and to monitor progress toward improvement. Because not all gaps can be addressed simultaneously, improvement projects are launched to address the vital few areas for improvement.


As organizations address these gaps from one cycle, they can refocus during the next cycle to the next level of vital gaps. This project-by-project focus over several years allows the organization to achieve breakthrough levels of improvement in many key areas within the organization. The awards process cycle provides a schedule for assessing, prioritizing, and improving.

Author: Juran

For the past 75 years, Juran has been an industry leader in performance excellence. We are your on-demand team of trainers, coaches, and expert consultants. Built upon the philosophies laid out by Dr. Juran, the father of quality, we put you on the fast track to results by designing improvement initiatives that actually work. We aim to help all organizations achieve the highest quality of products, people, and processes, and we understand the importance of transferring our knowledge to your team to guarantee the success of your program in the future.

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