Continuous Quality ImprovementIntroductionThe continuous quality improvement, CQI, is a fundamental principle of the total quality management. This principle has been supported by the leaders in quality movement like W. Edwards Deming and M.
Juran (Young, 1992). Deming stated that the system of service and production must improve constantly and forever. In relation to this, the Japanese students of Juran and Deming accepted freely this principle and called it kaizen, a Japanese term for “improvement”. Thus, the principles of CQI are basic to the management style of the Japanese and are considered as the most fundamental rule in every Japanese manufacturing practice.
However, in the view of the organization theory, the concept of CQI is non-evident. For instance, the principle of dynamic homeostasis under the open systems theories is in contradictory with the continuous quality improvement. The former classified system changes as either threats to survival or disruptions as the systems strive to return to and preserve the equilibrium state. On the other hand, the CQI defies the state of dynamic equilibrium and holds that the members of the organization freely choose to set the organization in the unfrozen state.
Continuous Quality ImprovementContinuous quality improvement is an approach to improve the performance of the operations through incremental, regular or frequent improvements (Brown and Eisenhardt, 1997). Even though the CQI does not directly intend to generate incremental development, it considers small improvements as significant changes over a big one followed by small improvements. In addition, a big leap of development necessitates the consolidation between the steps. The continuous improvement referred by kaizen also encompasses the radical changes at home and work, and in personal and social life brought by the active involvement of the person with his or her colleagues (Brown and Eisenhardt, 1997).
Thus, in CQI, the size of every change is not the prime importance but the continuity of the improvement. In other words, the momentum of improvement is more significant than its rate. In contrast, breakthrough improvement gives importance on creative solutions and promotes individualism and free thinking. It employs an approach to improvement wherein the constraints are hindered.
For example, the “completely rethinking system” and the “starting with a clean sheet of paper” are principles of breakthrough improvements. On the other hand, CQI is less ambitious and accentuates attention, adaptability, and teamwork. It places importance on the accumulated operation experiences and largely depends on the persons in charge in the actual operations for the improvement of the system. As analogically explained, breakthrough improvement is like a series of impressive sprints while the CQI is similar to marathon where, although perseverance and persistence are needed, the strength for sprinting is non-essential.
As they mostly produce substantial gains, large improvements are employed. However, between such events, the operations may continue with less spectacular and silent improvements. Nevertheless, breakthrough and CQI at different times can be integrated and applied (Brown and Eisenhardt, 1997).Meanwhile, in the practice of CQI, the specific techniques and tools are for such already available in the literature.
Some of these techniques gave importance primarily on group problem solving techniques, production techniques and work analysis. However, some members of the labor movement treated the notion of CQI a form of “management by stress” wherein the manager persuades the employees to remove perceptions that may negatively affect their jobs. In connection to this, the productivity increased which resulted from the principle application of CQI in the absence of employment assurance would definitely serve as job threat. Hence, Young (1992) postulated that if the threat for job loss will be ensured, the CQI can easily be adopted by the labor sector.
As well, it is possible to give reward to those employees who can formulate suggestions for the improvement of the firm. This practice is common in Japan’s business sector.Young (1992) further hypothesized that both monetary and non-monetary rewards can facilitate the labor sector’s acceptance of the CQI practices. As the various theories of organizational change differentiated the routine, gradual, or incremental change from dramatic, radical, punctuated, strategic or discontinuous changes, the practices of CQI challenge the theories which consider minor changes to incremental changes.
Often times, in this view, the cumulative capability of incremental changes in transforming industries and organizations over time. For instance, the automobile companies for over 25 years have radically transformed whereas this transformation could hardly be ascribed to specific factors like new technology. It is rather more precise to postulate that the radical changes are brought by the continuous improvement which in turn caused productivity increased and the development of quality outputs.Every CQI program aims to create an organizational culture that prioritizes the empowerment of employees so as to identify and resolve problems from the top down to the bottom of the organizational hierarchy (Winchell, 1991).
The CQI program emphasizes the role of continuous improvement of the quality of products and services by means of various techniques like collection and analysis of data. Further, instead of correcting individual errors, the improvement of the system and work processes are the primary concerns of a CQI program. Based on the available literature, the risk taking, participative, and flexible culture is directly correlated to the CQI implementation. As well, the program implementation has direct correlation with the perceived improvements.
Hence, both data and reporting processes are critical and should be cautiously scrutinized as an integral part of any improvement program.A major CQI element is the variation identification from the norms and the process correction in reducing such variation (Winchell, 1991). In the manufacturing industry, this process can be implemented through the periodical measurement and adjustment of the firm’s equipment to ensure product uniformity. The products which do not attain tolerances are discarded, reducing the cost due to defects.
In connection to this, the CQI utilizes a system approach in describing the service delivery or the production process. Specifically, the primary focus of evaluation is the processes with greater potential for instability or variation as well as those most possible subjects of customers’ scrutiny. Flow charts are used to indicate the series of steps in the service delivery or production process. Then, the observations regarding customers’ satisfaction are applied in the determination of the steps or processes in the system which is the most probable cause of customers’ dissatisfaction and therefore, must be assessed.
In the human service and health organizations, the process of CQI starts by identifying the major systems and using the survey and interview data in defining the possible cause of the customer’s dissatisfaction (Winchell, 1991). After determining the possible cause of the customer’s dissatisfaction, the processes are scrutinized for the determination of the needed improvements. Meanwhile, the quality indicators are mostly developed through the attributes of the service delivery, conformity to standard and accessibility along with the relationships among the staffs. In addition, the norms can be established through the expectations of the staff or the customers.
Then, the identifications of the probable cause of the variations from the norms may necessitate the assessment of the complex and interrelated system of several service providers or departments. Nonetheless, a unique element of the CQI is the application of the continuous monitoring in the correction of variation based on the desired performance level. In other words, the evaluation is only considered as completed after the modification or discontinuation of the process. In particular, based on the industrial applications, in any CQI program, the higher rate of rejection is commonly observed when the products are inspected by the non-production staff members of when the inspection is done at the end of the manufacturing process (Winchell, 1991).
As a consequence, as organizations implement any CQI program, they ensure that only the line staff is actively involved in the problem identification, criteria development, and data collection, analysis and interpretation.Leadership and CQIDynamic organizations continuously find ways for the improvement of their respective products and services. The CQI programs are significant not only for the sustenance of the organization’s operations but also for the innovations of the solutions, products and services, and for the growth and advancement of the organization, in general. However, the formulation and implementation of any CQI program needs quality culture in the development of commitment and teamwork among the members.
Since culture refers to the way of living, quality culture denotes the commitment, behavior, awareness, and collective attitude of the organization with regards to quality. As such, strong leadership, technology, information process, best practice deployment, and teams are the major requirements for a quality culture of continuous improvement. These characteristics can be internally developed among the members through the continuous improvement on defect elimination, incremental value addition, innovations, and re-structuring the system and processes as well as the products.Continuous quality improvement then aspires for quality policy, objectives, standards, process, and outputs which need continuous improvement strategy.
As well, this strategy requires the leader to patiently incite each member in the pursuit of excellence by means of life-long learning and sustained commitment in meeting the organizational goals. Therefore, any CQI program entails strong leadership in the formulation and implementation of the program’s elements towards quality policy, process, and products.ReferencesBrown, S.L.
, and Eisenhardt, K.M. (1997). The art of continuous change: linking complexity theory and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations.
Administrative Science Quarterly, 42, 1-34.Winchell, W. (1991). Continuous Quality Improvement: A Manufacturing Professional’s Guide.
Dearborn, Mich.: Society of Manufacturing Engineers.Young, S.M.
(1992). A framework for successful adoption and performance of Japanese manufacturing practices in the United States. Academy of Management Review, 17(4), 677-700.