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Continual Improvement

In the ISO 9001 standard, the requirement for continual improvement (CI) is defined in clause 8.5.1 “Continual Improvement”. Continual Improvement can be initiated through the use of quality policy, quality objective, audit results, analysis of data, corrective and preventive actions and management review. This requirement covers both the reactive and proactive action of improvement.


The reactive action are those actions taken to address nonconformities of products, processes and systems such as the correction taken on nonconformity or a defect and the follow-up corrective action to remove the root causes of the nonconformity. This is referred to as problem solving or problem resolution process and is a reactive action.


Continual improvement, however, refers to actions taken to optimize a specific characteristic or a set of characteristics even though performance of the characteristics may be at the acceptable level to the customer or the organization. This is very important concept in management practices as it is a way to prevent an organization from becoming complacent when all outcomes are acceptable. Continual improvement drives the organization to continually address ways to reduce costs, improve organizational performance and customer satisfaction.


In process management, the basis for CI is in the managing of variation. Variation is the fluctuation of the output of a process, sometimes called noise. Every repeatable process exhibits variation. Improvement of any process is to reduce variation so that the process can consistently meet expectation of either the internal customers or external customers. Studying variation leads to managing it, as this will help to identify the source of a problem and to establish the action most likely to resolve it.


Understanding variation involves identifying whether the variation is due to common causes or special causes. Common cause variation is systemic, built into the process or system. The variation is random, with its average value and boundaries being predictable (i.e. the variation around the average level is call random). The causal factors of common cause variation are unknown, and therefore, reducing such variation requires fundamental changes to the process or system. Common cause variation requires a long term strategy of process management to identify, understand and reduce it. It provides opportunity for Continual Improvement initiative.


Special cause variation is not build into the process or system, and it is not equally likely to affect all outputs. Special cause variation is not predictable, and it occurs sporadically. Specific assonate factors of special cause variation can be identified, and corrective action, as defined in ISO 9001 8.5.2 “Corrective Action” is needed to remove them. It does not require fundamental changes to the process or system. If there is special cause variation, the process cannot be stable over time.



Similar to the problem solving approach, the systematic approach to CI is based on the Plan Do Check Action (PDCA) cycle. The PDCA cycle ensures rigor that is necessary to understand all aspect of the improvement opportunities and for considering multiple options. Apart from the data analysis tools, CI tools include creativity tools, quality function deployment, and what-if analysis, in the context of CI, it is necessary to focus on customer wants and needs in more depth in order to be able to develop improvement option. This will demand more sophisticated research approaches and the requirement to obtain additional customer data to determine the scope of the improvement.



Continual Improvement

Applying the Principle of Continual Improvement In ISO 9001

Applying The Principle of Continual Improvement In ISO 9001

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