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What is Continuous Improvement?

ISO 9001 – Continuous Improvement Definition

So what does continuous improvement mean? The concept of continuous improvement in ISO 9001 is simple, but how is improvement measured and what exactly is an improvement? ISO’s version of continuous improvement holds that all improvements should address at least one of the following options:

  • Improvement of internal efficiency
  • Improvement of quality or performance that the market expects
  • Improve the ability to adapt to customer requirements
ISO 9001 continuous improvement of individual skills or production processes

Scope of Improvement

Asking a corporation to constantly improve seems vague and almost impossible at first glance, but within ISO 9001 there are many opportunities for improvement. The concept of continuous improvement does not state that a company should plan to improve all parts of its process at one time or strive for continuous improvement of only process steps. It is seeking the effort of improvement and desire to try different things in your process or make slight improvements to your system. You do not need to improve profits or shorten your process, but you must attempt to do things that may improve the function of your process or try adding another aspect to your QMS (it is the effort that counts).

How to Find Opportunities for Improvement?

There are a few places where you can search for areas that may be in need of improvement to maintain compliance with the standards. Customers are often a good source to find improvements. Whether it be considering how satisfied they are and whether there are any complaints or feedback can be a good place to start. Another place to look is, at what other businesses in your industry are doing. See if any of their ideas or innovations could work within your process to improve its function or the final product. One more thing ISO auditors are on the lookout for are improvements that have come due to employee suggestions. It is important to involve all levels of management and employees in creating an efficient and profitable process. Both internal and external audits are apart of the certification process, and often shed light on some things that can improve or are currently non-conforming.

Continuous improvement process steps are easier to find than one may think. Audits help outline them.

10 Pillars of Continuous Improvement

KaiNexus Blog has created a list of principles that they consider to be key when aiming for continuous improvement. Here is a mix of what they say and a few added points of my own:

  1. Build improvements on several small changes, not only major shifts. Approach change in incremental steps to avoid intimidation.
  2. Value employee ideas: opportunities are often noticed by operators and overlooked by management.
  3. Incremental improvements often come at little to no cost. Many improvements involve eliminating certain tasks rather than adding them.
  4. Employees take ownership when involved: being able to have an input improves communication.
  5. Source of improvement: Improvements are welcome from anyone within the company, boosting commitment.
  6. Improvement must be measurable. Measure the impact of changes, showing you if a similar solution could be useful elsewhere.
  7. You can improve the same section can more than once. If something has become better that doesn’t mean it is to its full potential.
  8. Any part of the process or aspect of the final product can be an improvement: there is no set list of improvements.
  9. Record any improvement or attempt at improvement. That is how the auditors are able to see if you have made changes or at least trying to.
  10. Improvement is not delegated to a certain part of the company. Any improvement from any department would count under ISO.