What is Continuous Quality Improvement? - Definition & Process

Instructor: Olga Bugajenko

Olga is a registered PRINCE2 Practitioner and has a master's degree in project management.

Bill Gates once famously said 'Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning'. Learn what is continuous quality improvement, and what are the most popular four steps an organization could take to achieve it.

What is Continuous Quality Improvement?

Do you remember yourself in elementary school, learning how to write? It is unlikely that the process was easy to master, but as you continued to practice every day and tweaked a few techniques, like the way you hold the pen, it hopefully got easier and easier. Imagine how your handwriting would look like now and how long it would take you to write a simple note to your family member, in case you would have given up as a 5-year old and refused to improve your writing skills.

Continuous quality improvement (commonly abbreviated to CQI) is a quality management approach that is based on the idea that most processes can be improved and made more efficient. Instead of focusing on the issue only when a problem is inevitable, and a dramatic intervention is necessary, CQI advocates for incremental, but regular changes that become a part of organization's day-to-day activities.

CQI offers a set of concepts and methods that are applied to the organization's processes. It shifts the attention from the people of an organization to its processes and products, seeking ways to satisfy organization's internal (employees) and external customers. CQI encourages teamwork and utilizes internal knowledge to optimize the processes. Such methods are applied across a variety of industries, from manufacturing to healthcare.

PDCA method

One of the most popular continuous quality improvement methods is a 4-step cycle called PDCA:

  • Plan - during the first step, the information about current processes and customer needs is collected and analyzed. Goals are set, and success measures are chosen. Actions required to reach the desired goal are identified.
  • Do - at the next step, previously agreed upon plan of actions is implemented. Often, the implementation may be tested on a small scale. Any arising issues should be documented at this stage.
  • Check - once the implementation is completed, another round of information collection and analysis is carried out to evaluate, whether the original goals have been achieved. The documentation, created during the previous step, is reviewed.
  • Act - at the last step, in case the desired goal was achieved, the newly created process becomes a part of organization's routine. Alternatively, the process may be adjusted to yield better results. As PDCA is a cycle, rather than a linear method, once an Act step is finished, a new cycle begins. This ensures the continuity of the process improvement within the organization.


PDCA cycle suggests four steps for continuous quality improvement within the organization
PDCA cycle


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