Key Steps in Implementing ISO 9001 – Step 7: Improvement
Continuing with the theme that ISO 9001:2008 is based on the “Plan, Do, Check, ActCycle” (PDCA), this article takes a look at the need to “Act” to improve the effectiveness of the management system.
“Continual vs Continuous Improvement?”
Discussions about improvement seem to center on the differences between using the word “continual” compared to “continuous”. There is a small – and subtle – difference between each words’ definition which can affect the organization who wishes to pursue improvement of its management system. The use of “continuous” implies, from the definition of the word, that actions lead to an unbroken almost continuum of improvement(s). If considering “continual”, this seemingly never ending stream of improvements isn’t as pervasive.
To get a better grasp, the two terms can be best described through typical improvement methodologies:
Continuous Improvement can be best described through the implementation of the Toyota Production System methodology “Kaizen”, or (in Japanese, “good change”). Although the term “kaizen” doesn’t mean “continuous”, it is recognized as a method of implementation which has brought the association. Kaizen is a daily process, practiced by production workers, which brings about small scale improvements through work standardization, waste elimination and so on.
Continual Improvement can also be accomplished without employing the same unbroken chain of actions. In such a case, improvements can be made as they’re identified, possibly over an extended period. An example of such an approach might be best described by the so-called “6 Sigma” or “DMAIC” approach – which tends to implement improvements on large scale over a longer time frame.
The difference in approach can be represented graphically:
As an outcome of performing a review of the management system, the organization’s role is now to identify where it believes that these resources should be directed. Taking a look at the requirements for management review in ISO 9001, 5.6.3 “Review output” which states:
“The output from the management review shall include any decisions and actions relating to:
- Improvement of the effectiveness of the quality management system and its processes,
- Improvement of the product related to customer requirements, and
- Resource needs”
It can be seen that direction as to what needs improvement can/should come from management.
Since both techniques rely on the people involved obtaining the resources needed to complete their improvements, it is clear that the organization’s management need to be assured that their endeavors are going to be successful. These resources often include arranging for people to have the time to work on improvements, providing a budget to account for any spending needed and training in a variety of techniques which are the basis of improvement. Indeed, under the 6 Sigma approach, there are a variety of training courses, frequently including hands-on implementation of an improvement project, leading to certification as a “Green Belt” (implementor) or “Black Belt” (project leader). Training in Kaizen methods may also be needed and is likely to include mentoring under a so-called “sensei” or master.
Something which is often overlooked in the implementation of improvements is the need to show the difference between “change” and improvement. Improvement, if it is to be supported by an organizations management, must result in measurable, improved performance – whether that is expressed in terms of process or product. Change, however, may deliver a similar result before anything was done. Care must be taken to ensure they are not confused.
Whatever approach is adopted by the organization, one thing is clear. Improvement must bring tangible results.
Author: Andy Nichols