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Continuous Improvement Requires a Quality Culture

Navin Shamji Dedhia

5080 Bougainvillea Drive
San Jose, California 95111
United States of America



Continuous improvement culture helps organizations to develop committed employees,

delighted customers and build value added products and services. Building a continuous
improvement requires a quality culture. Dynamic organizations are the ones, who are always
seeking new ways of doing the business by continuously improving their business operations
and activity to create a growth in the market share and increase the profitability. Continuous
improvement activity is emphasized in the ISO 9000:2000 Quality Management Systems
Standard. Continuous improvement activities are important not only for the survival but for
the growth as well as for the innovative products, services and solutions.

Many companies and organizations strive to be quality conscience, culture sensitive and
socially responsible. Culture is defined as ‘the way we do things around here’. The way
employees actually behave, think and believe determines the culture. Culture is the
personality of the organization. Culture is what employees do when no one is watching. It is a
‘walk the talk’. Quality culture refers to the degree of awareness, commitment, collective
attitude, and behavior of the organization with respect to quality.

The key ingredients of the continuous improvement process are teams, technology to define
product, process and information, deployment of best practice, and leadership doing the
catalytic work. Continuous improvement encompasses all forms of improvement in the form of
elimination of defects, improvements incrementally adding value, larger scale, long tem
innovations, strategic in nature dramatically redefining systems, processes and outputs. Steps
required for the continuous improvement are measure, monitor, manage and maximize.

The philosophy of continuous improvement lies in root cause analysis and resulting actions.
Continual improvement is a process of increasing the effectiveness of an organization to fulfill
quality policy and quality objectives.

Improvement activities fail due to number of reasons. Organizations may have extensive
quality control measures in place, but, not everyone lives and breathes them. Under the
competitive pressures, companies cannot afford to have anything but the very best quality. An
action oriented quality culture, attitude and willingness must be developed within the
organization not only to survive, but, to thrive.

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KEY WORDS: Total Quality Management, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Loyalty, Team
Spirit, Process Improvements, Motivation, Leadership


The field of quality evolved gradually from error detection by performing 100 % test and
inspection to error prevention using zero defect concepts to customer focus by applying
management system approach to performance excellence using continuous improvement
strategy. The reference date for the quality activity goes back when Dr. Walter Shewhart’s
book on “Economic Control of Manufactured Product” got published in 1931. Since
1931, more than 69 quality initiatives have been developed to improve quality, profitability,
productivity, performance and reduce cycle time.

Pursuit of performance excellence requires products and service identification;

determination of customers and their requirements; process definition, documents and
procedure creation; resource and training requirements; and defect elimination along with
process optimization and continuous improvement.

The systematic, continuous improvement process approach is the basis of the International
Standards System. The key ingredients of the continuous improvement process are teams;
technology to define product, process and information; deployment of best practices; and
leadership doing the catalytic work. Emphasis of the ISO 9000:2000 standard is on
management commitment, continuous improvement, process approach, and greater focus
on customer satisfaction. Continual improvement can be considered as a stepped approach
to improvements as opposed to continuous, which is unbroken, constant or uninterrupted.

Continual improvement is a key addition to the ISO 9000:2000 Standards system. The
standard requires that the organization shall continually improve the effectiveness of the
quality management system through the use of the quality policy, quality objectives, audit
results, analysis of data, corrective and preventive actions and management review. The
ISO 9001 standard encourages companies to set clear business performance objectives
against which the management system will provide a measure of improvement.

Steps required for the continual improvement are measure, monitor, manage and
maximize. Overriding commitment to quality, total customer satisfaction and drive
towards continual improvement are an integral part of the quality management system.
Continuous improvement will lead to improved processes, cost reductions, improved
market perception and high morale of all stake holders.

Improvement strategy encompasses all forms of improvements such as:

-Elimination of defects, errors, mistakes

-Improvements that incrementally add value
-Larger scale, long term innovations, strategic in nature that
dramatically redefine systems, processes and outputs

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Examples of continual improvement activities include:

-Quality Circles
-Quality improvement programs
-Process reengineering
-Improvements in process/products performances
-Product consistency
-Documentation/quality policy review/update
-Training enhancement
-Automated tools
-Investments in new tools/techniques/methods
-New material
-Lean operation (doing more with less)

Angelique Arnauld stated, “perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in
doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Big things will eventually occur when
improving a little each day. Perfection requires a dramatic transformation.”

Matthew E. May in his book on ‘The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering
Innovation’ describes, “…Toyota’s success is hard to replicate. Their system drives a
universal focus on ground-level innovation to the point that the pursuit of perfection is
part of who they are not just what they do.”


There are many definitions of quality. Quality is a systematic approach in search for
excellence. Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere
effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. It represents the wise choice of many
alternatives. Excellence is the outstanding practice in managing the organization and
achieving results. Truly Excellent organizations are those that strive to satisfy their
stakeholders by what they achieve, how they achieve it, what they are likely to achieve
and the confidence they have that the results will be sustained in the future.

Each of the quality gurus had a common ground in their own distinctive approach
towards the quality.

 The importance of controlling the process and not the product

 Importance of human development
 Top management responsible for quality and not the work force
 The climate and framework of operations determined by the management
 Importance of education and training
 The emphasis on prevention of product defects, not inspection after the event
 Emphasis on Quality Improvement
 Quality is not a program but a process, and not an instant cure

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 Quality is a company wide activity

14 points of Dr. W. Edwards Deming include the concept of improvement as stated below:

-Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service.

-Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production, and supply.

Mr. Phillip B. Crosby in his 14 point improvement program includes:

-Quality improvement team

Dr. Joseph M. Juran defined Quality Trilogy of processes – quality planning, quality
control and quality improvement – constitute the general methodologies for quality


There are many different definitions of corporate culture. Culture is defined as ‘the way we
do things around here.’ The way employees actually behave, think and believe determines
the culture. Culture is the personality of the organization. Culture is what employees do
when no one is watching. It is a ‘walk the talk’. Consistent talking and actions matters
much. Culture is the basic pattern of shared beliefs, behaviors, attitudes and assumptions
acquired over time by members of an organization. Attitude shows the outlook and
thoughts from which the work habits emerge. It reflects attitudes and practices related to
quality systems application. Formal policies, procedures, behaviors and habits operate as
the ground rules and guidelines.

Vision, mission, values, goals and strategy are the guiding principles of a corporation and
culture culminates from them. Corporate culture is changing fast. Everyone is expected to
move at much faster speed. Operational principles for the corporations are ‘Slim, Speed
and Simple’. Corporate culture is people in action.

Quality culture refers to the degree of awareness, commitment, collective attitude, and
behavior of the organization with respect to quality.

Enemies of Quality Culture:

-It’s the best we can do

-There is not enough time
-There is not enough money
-There are not enough people
-It is not in my budget
-It is not my responsibility
-Let someone else worry about it
-It is too late to change it
-The customer does not understand

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-It is not really a problem
-It is not my fault
-The quality control only applies to manufacturing
-It is as good as it can be
-Relax, we hit the goal

The Friends of Quality Culture:

-The customer is first

-Continual improvement is essential to the success
-Quality does not take time, it saves time
-What gets measured gets managed
-Problems are opportunities in disguise
-The only bad mistake is a hidden mistake
-Training saves money
-It is the process, not the people
-Better is better than best

In the quality culture environment focus is on customer and quality becomes everyone’s
responsibility. Employees are empowered to do their job. Customer expectations are
exceeded and customer gets delighted.

Creative quality culture involves:

-Pursuit of solving unidentified problems

-Surprising and delighting customers
-Goal of customer loyalty instead of satisfaction only
-Changes with stability and control
-Process focus


The following sources provide valuable information for improvements:

a) Customer complaints (direct, indirect)

b) Audit results
c) Nonconforming reports
d) Outputs from management reviews
e) Data analysis
f) Customer satisfaction measurements
g) Relevant quality management system records
h) Employees
I) Process and product measurements
j) Results of self-assessments
k) Lessons learned from the past experience
l) Early warning system

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j) Process Control Data
k) Inspection Data

Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s cycle known as PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) or PDSA (Plan,
Do, Study, Act) cycle is a useful tool for continual improvement activities. PDCA is a best
known tool for the improvement activities. The elements of PDCA to optimize the output
and results are:

Plan – Say what you will do (Define the improvement, outline and establish the plan and
solution and document it)

Do - Do what you say (Implement the plan and solution, maintain it)

Check – Check results vs. expectations/objectives (Monitor the results by measuring and
analyzing the data, perform management reviews, conduct internal audits)

Act – Improve deficiencies (Revise/update the plan and solution, Take appropriate
corrective/preventive actions to improve it)

Breakthrough projects, conducted using project management technique lead to revision

and improvement of existing processes or the implementation of new processes. Small-step
ongoing improvement activities and breakthrough projects involve:

-Reasons for improvement

(Why is it being done, what are the benefits, impact if not done?)
-Analyzing and assessing existing situation (Where is the problem, who’s causing
it, why, when is it happening?)
-Establishing the objectives for improvements (What’s the gain?)
-Carrying out root cause analysis
(Using Pareto analysis or Shewhart Fish-Bone Diagram, Cause and Effect
-Identification of best possible solution using brain storming and prioritizing
technique to achieve the objectives
(How many solutions are being proposed, cost of implementation, resources?)
-Selecting and implementing best solution
-Measuring, verifying, analyzing and evaluating results of implementation to
determine the objectives (Any change after implementation?)
-Evaluation of effects
-Implementation and standardization through the formal changes
-Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency
(Are established objectives being met, output vs. input?)

Problem solving project can be summarized in five stages:

1) Explore – performing cost benefits of the project. Assessing involved risks, etc.
2) Initiate – Form a team and have a brainstorming session to suggest the best

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alternative solution
3) Implement – Implement the best solution without interrupting the current
4) Sustain – Keep the momentum going until the project completion
5) Emphasize – Provide resources to enhance the project

A survey shows that top management influences the success of a continuous improvement
project by 50 %, middle management by 26 % and the first-line supervisor by 19 %.

Overproduction, defects, material and information movement, unnecessary process steps,

process waiting time, inefficient movement and rework fall into the waste categories where
actions can be taken to reap the benefits.

Kaizen is a Japanese term with the literal meaning of “improvement”. The concept implies
a continuous effort (improvement) involving everyone in the organization. It is applicable
to all aspects of life system including environment, education system, road system, etc. It
also means raise the standards further with limited investment.

Change and continuous improvement are interrelated. Mr. M. K. Gandhi, India’s freedom
fighter and leader, once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. Change
management is an organized approach to managing the elements of a business in a way
that fosters continual improvement.

The Seven M’s of Quality can be used effectively to manage the improvement. Approach,
deployment and results have to be considered to bring the desired improvement. Approach
should include sustained continuous improvement.
* Man - (operator, training, skill, attitude, organization structure and culture,
management, dedication)
* Machine - (equipment, tools, automation, age, maintenance)
* Method - (process, technology, technique)
* Material - (ingredients, purity level)
* Media - (environment, time)
* Motivation - (attitude, willingness)
* Money - (investment, capital)

The following tools and techniques are useful to achieve the desired improvements:

Brainstorming:- An effective group technique to generate new ideas and possible solutions.

Benchmarking: – It is the continuous process of measuring/comparing products, services,

and processes against those of the toughest competitors or those companies recognized as
industry leaders. It is a positive practice to improve the structure of operations to achieve
superior performance.

Cause-effect diagram (Ishikawa diagram, Fishbone diagram): - It shows the relationships

between effect and possible influencing causes.

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Check Sheet: - It is a mechanism for identifying variables and counting their frequency of

Control Chart: - A run chart with statistical upper and lower control limits of the process.

Flow Diagram: - Pictorial presentation shows all process steps and activities in sequence.

Histogram: - A plot of measurement revealing variation in the form of a bell shape curve.

Management systems deploying ISO 9001 and other such standards system: – ISO 9001
QMS system concentrates on fixing quality management system defects and
product/service nonconformities. It also helps to document “What the organization is
doing”. It is an organized approach to managing elements of a business in such a way that
fosters continual improvement and customer satisfaction.

National/local quality award schemes: - Awards focus on performance excellence and

identify and track important organizational results. It helps to determine “Where the
organization is”.

Pareto Analysis: - A bar graph showing defects from highest to lowest order that helps to
set problem priority.

Process Control: - Detects changes in a process and monitors the performance of the
process over time. It involves systematic evaluation of the performance of a process and
the corrective actions taken for the improvement

Run Chart: - it is a chart showing a graphical presentation over a time to monitor the
process and check the trend

Six Sigma Methodology: - Six Sigma is a set of statistical and management tools that can
make leaps in improvement. Six Sigma process has a failure rate of 3.4 PPM (parts per
million) or 99.99966 % defect-free product. It uses a complicated approach to problem
solving called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control).

Self-assessment techniques: – SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunity, Threat)

technique is an internal assessment of the organization to create an awareness, increase
understanding and identify areas for improvement. Essentially, self-assessment or self-
appraisal involves the regular and systematic review of an organization’s activities and
results. The process allows an organization to clearly discern its strengths and areas for

Scatter Diagram: - It shows the possible relationship between one variable and another.

Total Quality Management (TQM): - It is a cost effective system for integrating the
continuous quality improvement efforts of people at all levels in an organization to deliver
products, services and solutions which ensure customer satisfaction.

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Kaizen: Kaizen is a Japanese term with the literal meaning of “improvement”. The
concept implies a continuous effort (improvement) involving everyone in the organization.
It is applicable to all aspects of life system including environment, education system, road
system, etc. It also means raise the standards further with limited investment.

Quality Policy:

An example of quality policy including emphasis on continual improvement is shown here:

”There shall be an overriding worldwide commitment to quality of the products, solutions

and services provided to the customers. Quality is recognized as a fundamental component
of the value customers receive from the corporation.

We are committed to the goals of achieving total customer satisfaction delivering superior
products, solutions, and services and exceeding customer expectations. Recognizing that
the marketplace is the driving force behind everything, corporation implements effective
business processes that support value creation for the customers and stakeholders.

Organization leaders are responsible for establishing objectives and using measurements to
drive continual improvement in quality and customer satisfaction. All employees are
expected to contribute to continual improvement as an integral part of the quality
management system.”

Roadblocks to Improvement Activities:

Improvement activities fail due to number of reasons. Employees do not trust the
management and do not show loyalty towards the work. Work ethics are poor with low
morale. Management lacks credibility. Employees have not been trained to carryout the
project effectively. Two way communications is not happening. Clear-cut objectives for
the improvement are not set-up and confusing instructions are given. Participants have a
fear of reprimand if not successful and as a result do not take required risk. Management
has not delegated authority to make key decisions to the team. Timely decisions are not
happening and opportunities are missed. Team member continuity is not maintained and
there is high turn over rate.

Improvement Factors:

Improvement success is dependent on:

-Teamwork, cooperation and active support from everyone involved

-Enthusiasm of everyone involved
-Leadership, commitment and ownership
-Management vision
-Clear cut understanding of requirements
-Open communication

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-Quick decision making process
-Integrity and unbiased fair views

To Survive, Succeed and Compete Effectively:

One of the challenges of striving for the world class organization is the process to ensure
employees understand the organization’s policy, strategy, goals, objectives and
management system, specifically, on how an individual’s position impact the company’s
ability to service customers consistently and effectively.

The aim of the organization is to increase the probability of enhancing satisfaction of

customers. To survive, succeed and compete effectively, it requires:

-Visibility and active participation of management in the improvement activities

-Variability reduction of the processes using the proven techniques
-Active involvement and support of all employees, team spirit and cooperation
-Consistencies of goals, understood and adapted by employees
-Process driven management, not people driven management
-True partnership with customers and suppliers with firm commitment
-Creation of positive and encouraging environment to instill creativity in employees
(Programs such as suggestion program, Idea generation, Speak-up, Open Door Policy,
-Strong commitment from all employees
-Error cause removal system
-Ability to solve problems effectively using structured problem solving methods and
analytical tools
-Effective training for everyone
-Attention to details
-Elimination of non value added activities

Measurements need to be defined and managed actively. Measurement management steps

follow Dr. Deming’s PDCA Cycle in the order of:

1. Measure: Do, perform regular and effective measurements

2. Monitor: Check/Study, perform awareness analysis and timely decision on data

3. Manage: Act, based on measurements and monitoring activity, take appropriate

corrective and preventive actions

4. Maximize: Plan, reevaluate the plan for improvements and breakthrough


An action oriented quality culture, attitude and willingness must be developed within the

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organization not only to survive, but, to thrive. Continuous improvement strategy will help
to develop an internal positive environment and creation of delighted customers. A culture
of aiming for perfection will require a continuous improvement strategy. Leaders have to
inspire to enable a culture of excellence and pursuit of excellence. Continuous
improvement can be aided by Aim towards perfection, methods and sustained
commitment. Continuous Improvement is a function of life long learning, development and
meeting customer requirements.

Continual improvement requires a committed, leading, involved, focused and responsive

management team to tackle any kind of activities. Organized, responsible, responsive,
authorized, empowered, trained and knowledgeable employees will accelerate the
improvement process.

Improvements are possible for visible, traceable, consistent, repeatable, measurable and
documentable processes.

For a successful implementation, organization needs appropriate, relevant, simple,

understandable and constant documents, procedures and records.

Management commitment for an effective programs, sound decisions and strategy for a
success is essential. Improvement can also brought by a partnership, cooperation and joint
programs with government, educational institutions, universities and other industries.

Successful continual improvement activity requires integration of basic principles of

excellence in each and every activity by adopting quality-minded attitude and behavior in
all interactions while keeping high ethics and high morale. Partnering brings “I win – you
win” environment. We cannot forget basic principle of “None of us is as strong as all of

Teams are the fundamental building block and the leadership is the catalytic ingredient to
deploy best practices to bring the improvement in the organization. “Find, Think and Do”
steps bring the fundamental changes. Quality mindedness is an attitude. Culture is a

Common human errors can be avoided by applying Poka-Yoke, error proofing, fail
proofing or mistake proofing techniques.

Quality improvement requires culture change in the form of:

-Commitment from all levels of management

-Team work and team spirit among working people
-Open communication
-Employee involvement and empowerment
-Self managed work teams
-Employee education, training, and skill development
-Making resources available

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A world class company achievement can only be obtained by following a continuous
improvement culture in an organization. Companies can be on top like a butter floats
on the top.

With continuous improvement strategy:

-Students can get better grades in a school

-Employee can perform better and can excel
-Achieving goals becomes easier
-Teams can win games and can become champion
-Creativity and innovations will be injected in the organization

Good things do not come easy way. It requires hard work. Focus on quality, cost, delivery
and customer delight is needed using a holistic approach.


Good, better, best; Never let it rest;

Make the good better; and make the better the best.


 Peg Neuhauser, Ray Bender and Kirk Stromberg; “Culture.com: Building

Corporate Culture in the Connected Workplace”, John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.,
 Navin S. Dedhia; “Quality, Culture and Social Responsibility”, 13th Asia Pacific
Quality Organization International Conference, Oct 18 – 20, 2007, Shanghai, China

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