What is continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement is an organisational culture. Ever since the Japanese led the way in the 1950s and stunned the West with their meteoric rise in commercial success, driven by an attention to quality and efficiency in manufacturing that was unprecedented, many organisations have adopted and reaped the benefits of a culture of continuous improvement. This is a culture, led from the very top management level, in which all employees are empowered to identify and implement ways of improving their outputs.
The Americans were quick to learn from the early Japanese pioneers and many leading exponents of continuous improvement, or “quality gurus” as they soon became known, came from Japan or the US. These people (amongst whom two of the more famous were W Edwards Deming of the US and Dr Kaoru Ishikawa of Japan) visited each other’s countries and widely shared their learning and experience, which has now spread throughout the world.
The test of time has shown that a continuous improvement culture benefits not only manufacturing organisations, but also service industries and not-for-profit organisations. It makes employees feel valued and motivated, delights customers and makes processes more effective and less costly to operate.
Continuous improvement tools
W Edwards Deming of the US promoted the “Plan Do Check Act” cycle (see above), a systematic approach to problem solving and improvement activity, that is nowadays incorporated into many of the ISO management system standards.
Dr Kaoru Ishikawa of Japan introduced the “Ishikawa Diagram” (also known as the “Fishbone” or “Cause & Effect” diagram), a tool for systematically representing and analysing the real causes behind a problem or effect.
These are just two of a wide range of tools and techniques in use today, too numerous to list here.
How we can help you introduce a culture of continuous improvement
We have a wealth of experience in the following areas –
- facilitating top management in introducing culture change
- helping to embed change throughout, in all types and sizes of organisation
- using a very wide range of continuous improvement tools and techniques, identifying which tools are appropriate for which circumstances and for which organisations, and in training people how to use them effectively
- documenting processes and procedures
- providing continuing support over the longer term and facilitation for specific improvement projects
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Related pages and links
For more information on renowned quality gurus and the tools and techniques developed by them, follow these links to articles from our Newsletter “Quality Guru” series –
- Taiichi Ohno
- W Edwards Deming
- Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa
- Dr. Joseph M Juran
- Dr. Genichi Taguchi
- Dr. Armand V Feigenbaum
- Dr. Shigeo Shingo
- Frederick W Taylor
- Elton Mayo
- Philip B Crosby
- Tom Peters