Introduction to Continuous Improvement

Dr. Joseph A DeFeo Blog Leave a Comment

When looking to define Continuous Improvement, one will find that it is used in multiple ways to describe multiple methods. In some instances, it could be used to describe the process of carrying out daily kaizens (Japanese for ‘improvement’); improvement through quality circles; or small, daily incremental improvements. At Juran, we define Continuous Improvement, or CI, as the need to continuously create ‘breakthroughs’.

There are two types of breakthrough, aimed at both sides of the definition of quality:

  1. Achieving higher-quality product and service features to provide customer satisfaction and revenue for the producing organization.
  2. Achieving freedom from failures to reduce customer dissatisfaction and non-value added waste.

Breakthrough is applicable to any industry, problem or process. For the producing organization, reducing product failures – and therefore reducing costs – is a target for breakthrough.

Many organizations create extensive CI programs to reduce excess failures and deficiencies. They may be implemented to drive the following actions:

  • Increase the yield of production processes
  • Reduce error rates of administrative reports
  • Reduce field failures
  • Reduce claim denials
  • Reduce the time it takes to perform critical patient clinical procedures

The methods and tools used to secure superior results are fundamentally different from day-to-day improvement methods, and for subtle reasons.


Why Continuous Improvement?

Products and services compete poorly in the market, and as a result, new weaknesses, or ‘chronic wastes’, are created. Such weaknesses are usually traceable to weaknesses in the planning process, and show up in an organization’s daily operational processes. To attain breakthroughs in current levels of performance, it is important to first have management commit to a program of quality improvement such as Six Sigma. A program like Six Sigma can help to identify the problems and discover their causes, and organizations must make the time to carry out a diagnosis of the current processes in order to do so. Once the causes are uncovered, remedies can be applied to remove them.

Continual breakthroughs are needed to meet the changing needs of customers and competitive prices. However, breakthroughs in improvement usually lag behind any breakthroughs in design, as they progress at very different rates. The chief reason is that many upper managers give a higher priority to increasing revenue through other means, rather than focusing resources on attaining breakthroughs by achieving unprecedented levels of performance. This difference in priority is usually reflected in the respective organizational structures.

The two main causes of a breakthrough approach include:

  • Global competition has intensified and has become a permanent.
  • There is a need to create a high rate of breakthrough, year after year.

Customers are becoming increasingly demanding of improved products from their suppliers, and these demands are then transmitted through the entire supplier chain of an organization. The demands may go beyond product breakthrough and extend to improving the system of managing for quality.

Breakthroughs must be directed at all areas that influence an organization’s performance: all business, transactional, and manufacturing processes.

CI should not be left solely to voluntary initiatives; it should be built into the strategic plan and DNA of a system.

Effective CI models require that:

  • Leaders mandate it, project by project, year after year
  • Projects be assigned to teams that must discover root causes of the problems to sustain the gains
  • Teams devise remedial changes to the “guilty” processes to remove or deal with the cause(s)
  • Teams work with functions to install new controls to prevent the return of the causes
  • Teams look for ways to replicate the remedies to increase the effect of the breakthrough
  • All teams must follow a systematic fact-based method.

Regardless of what your organization calls or brands its improvement model, breakthrough results only occur after the completion of both journeys.

It has been more than 50 years since Dr. Juran first published articles on the universal sequence for breakthrough. During that time, Dr. Juran witnessed many models and many organizations trying to simplify, reengineer, and rename this simple breakthrough method – some have worked; some have not. The most recent success is Six Sigma, or Six Sigma DMAIC, which has become the most effective “brand” of continuous improvement since the Motorola Corporation first began using the quality improvement method in the late 1970s. Six Sigma methods and tools employ many of these universal principles, and have been combined with the rigor of statistical and technological tools to collect and analyze data.



To put continuous improvement into action at your organization, contact us today.


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