Let’s say your company has been error-free for years. You pass every audit. You achieve all certifications. You have the ideal quality processes in place. Have you then reached a Quality Apex? You can go no higher?
Perhaps your company isn’t that perfect, but you feel that you have quality under control. You catch defects before they leave the plant. You might have an infraction or two from a regulations standpoint but you easily remedy the situation. Are you also in a position where your quality efforts have reached a plateau?
Without continuous improvement, even if your existing quality efforts are reducing problems like defects and rework, you may still fail to achieve desired levels of customer satisfaction and productivity.
An important characteristic of ISO 9000 standard is more emphasis on continuous improvement and on meeting customers’ needs and achieving their satisfaction. ISO 9001 requires companies to document operating procedures, training, internal auditing, and corrective action procedures. It also requires companies to implement procedures to improve existing procedures. Simply embracing the requirements to achieve these standards can assist a company with continuous improvement efforts. ISO 10014 also shows the expected financial and economic benefits of the application of continuous improvement management principles. It gives some guidance on how to implement them and how to analyze the level of their implementation.
The first step in continuous improvement is solving problems. To do so, they have to first be identified. Is there a loss of market share or are you slow to respond to changing business conditions? Are owners and customers, both internal and external, needs being met?
A good way to raise your level of continuous improvement, even if you believe you are at the quality apex, is to set a breakthrough goal for a key problem. Once this is achieved, set yet another breakthrough goal and work to achieve it. As you do so, you’ll uncover new problems, perhaps ones you didn’t know existed, and have an opportunity to improve. After a series of setting and achieving new goals, before you know it, you’ve taken the company to a higher level through continuous improvement.
Keys to success:
- View the organization as an internal system with a common aim rather than as individual departments acting to maximize their own performances
- Focus on the way tasks are accomplished rather than simply what tasks are accomplished
- Emphasize teamwork and a high level of participation by all employees
Continuous improvement is not a fad but a necessary part of management’s obligation to properly run its company. As technologies continue to impact our industry and create new opportunities as well as new challenges, the only way a company can stay competitive and survive is to strive for continuous improvement.