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What Is Continual Improvement? - Definition & Process Video

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 0:30 Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle
  • 1:51 Example of Continual…
  • 2:33 Management Philosophy
  • 2:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Quality management is all about making things better through identifying improvement opportunities and striving towards a stated goal. Learn the definition of continual improvement, how it can be applied, and why it is so important to use.

Definition of Continual Improvement

If improvement is defined as making a change that results in a better outcome, then continual improvement is simply always identifying and making changes that result in better outcomes. Continual improvement is a concept that is central to quality management theories and programs. In fact, the ISO9001 framework for quality management suggests that continual improvement should be a permanent objective of the organization.

Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle

W. Edwards Deming, considered by many to be the father of quality improvement, worked with Japanese automobile manufacturers in the mid-20th century on quality management techniques that helped them become known for the excellence of their work. As part of that work, Deming introduced the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle, or PDCA, of continual improvement.

PDCA is an easy-to-remember acronym for four critical steps of continual improvement. Changes that are made must first have an intentional and deliberate plan in place, not just for making the change, but for measuring the impact of the change. Once planned, it's time to do by implementing the change. After the change has occurred, the impact of the change needs to be checked in whatever way specified during the planning phase. Finally, when managers have information about the impact of the change, they act on either adjusting the original change or moving on to the next opportunity.

In an organization that has continual improvement as a primary objective, the PDCA cycle is constantly occurring. The idea of tolerance limits is completely forgotten and a specific, intentional goal is selected. Every part of the process that affects that goal is then analyzed and changed, either to help the outcome meet the goal or to meet the goal more efficiently.

Example of Continual Improvement

The United States Postal Service processes about 563 million pieces of mail each day. If they decide that a 99.9% accuracy rate is acceptable, meaning that only .1% of mail gets lost or delivered to the wrong recipient, that's more than 500,000 pieces of mail that get lost each day. It's probably safe to say that in that situation, a tolerance limit of .1% isn't acceptable. With 563 million pieces of mail, it probably isn't reasonable to expect 100% perfection but, according to Deming, that isn't a reason not to strive for 100% and implement PDCA to strive for it.

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