Chapter 7

Continuous Improvement in Quality Management

Rationale for Continuous Improvement
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Continuous improvement is the most fundamental element in total quality. It guarantees the success in the marketplace since the organization that applies this concept can be competitive in globally. Companies that are just maintaining the status quo in such key areas as quality, new product development, the adoption of new technologies and process performance are like a runner who is standing still in a race. It applies to processes, the people who operate them and the product.

Continuous improvement is also important in order to fulfil the customers' always changing needs. A special product feature that is considered innovative today will be considered just routine tomorrow. Therefore, the only way a company to be competitive in the marketplace is to adopt the continuous improvement concept.

Management's Role in Continuous Improvement
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Below are the management's roles in continuous improvement: Establishing an organization-wide quality council and serving on it. Working with the quality council to establish specific quality improvement goals with timetables and target dates. Providing the necessary moral and physical support. Moral support manifests itself as commitment. Physical support comes in the form of the resources needed to accomplish the quality improvement objectives. Scheduling periodic progress reviews and giving recognition where it is deserved. Building continuous quality improvement into the regular reward system, including promotions and pay increases.

Essential Improvement Activities

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Quality expert Peter R. Scholtes recommends the following five activities that he sees as crucial to continuous improvement: Maintain communication Correct obvious problems Look upstream Document problems and progress Monitor changes

Maintain Communication

Communication is essential to continuous improvement especially within improvement teams and between teams. It is important to share information before, during and after attempting to make improvements. All people involved as well as any person or unit that might be impacted by a planned improvement should know what is being done, why and how it might affect them.

Correct Obvious Problems
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The obvious problem should be corrected immediately. This is important to avoid wasting money and time. In the case of not so obvious problems, the organization can conduct a research and study so that a solution can be found. The most helpful tool is the scientific approach.

Look Upstream
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Look for causes, not symptoms. This is a difficult point to make with people who are used to taking a cursory glance at a situation and putting out the fire as quickly as possible without taking the time to determine what caused it.

Document Problems and Progress

It is not uncommon for an organization to continue solving the same problem over and over because nobody took the time to document the problems that have been dealt with and how they were solved.

Monitor Changes

It is important to monitor the performance of a process after changes have been implemented. It is also important to ensure that pride of ownership on the part of those who recommended the changes do not interfere with objective monitoring of the changes. These activities are essential regardless of how the improvement effort is structured.

Structure for Quality Improvement

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The structure for quality improvement involves the following steps: Establish a quality council Develop a statement of responsibilities Establish the necessary infrastructure

Establish A Quality Council

The quality council has overall responsibility for continuous improvement. According to Juran, the basic responsibility of this council is to launch, coordinate, and 'institutionalize' annual quality improvement. It is essential that the membership include executive-level decision makers.

Develop A Statement of Responsibilities

It is essential that everybody involved in the quality improvement process understand the quality council's responsibilities. One of the first priorities of the council is to develop and distribute a statement of responsibilities bearing the signature of the organization's CEO.

Establish The Necessary Infrastructure
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The Quality council constitutes the foundation of an organization's quality effort. However, there is more to the quality infrastructure than just the council. The remainder of the Quality infrastructure consists of subcommittees of the council that are assigned responsibility for specific duties, project improvement teams, quality-improvement managers, quality training programs and a structured improvement process.

The Scientific Approach

The scientific approach is one of the fundamental concepts that separate the total-quality approach from other ways of doing business. Peter Scholtes has developed the following four strategies for putting the scientific approach to work in a total-quality setting

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Collect meaningful data Identify root causes of problems Develop appropriate solutions Plan and make changes

Collect Meaningful Data

Meaningful data are free from errors of measurement or procedure and they have direct application to the issue in question. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for an organization or a unit within it to collect meaningless data or to make a procedural error that results in the collection of erroneous data. Therefore, before collecting data, decide exactly what is needed, how it can best be collected, where the data exists, how it will be measured and how you will know the data are accurate.

Identify Root Causes of Problem
The strategy of identifying root causes should always be emphasized. Too many resources are wasted by organizations attempting to solve symptoms rather than problems.

Develop Appropriate Solutions
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With the scientific approach, solutions are not assumed. The relevant data is collected after making sure of its accuracy, root causes are identified and an appropriate solution is then developed. When the scientific approach is applied, the problem identified is often much different from what would have been suspected if acting on a hunch or intuition. Correspondingly, the solution is also different.

Plan and Make Changes

All the plans and changes must be done carefully with deliberate planning. Planning forces you to look ahead, anticipate needs and what resources will be available to satisfy them, and anticipate problems and consider how they should be handled.

Identification of Improvement Needs

It is important to optimize the limited resources to bring the most benefit. One way to optimize it is by carefully selecting the areas of improvement to which time, energy and other resources will be devoted.

Development of Improvement Plans
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After a project has been selected, a project improvement team is established. The team should consist of representatives from the units most closely associated with the problem in question. It must include a representative from every unit that will have to be involved in carrying out improvement strategies. The project improvement team should begin by developing an improvement plan.

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