Understanding continual improvement

David Armstrong, Head of Profession at The Chartered Quality Institute (CQI) sheds light on what lies at the heart of continual improvement for organisations

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” This famous quote by Darwin is true not only of living organisms but also of organisations – just ask Kodak or Woolworths.

At the most fundamental level, the purpose of continual improvement is the drive to meet or exceed stakeholders’ requirements.

At The Chartered Quality Institute (CQI) we understand that quality professionals are at the heart of continual improvement for organisations. It is their responsibility to ensure an effective system of governance is in place and that processes and outputs are subject to an independent, effective process and product assurance. This results in decision-making based on objective evidence.

In most organisations, the capability and performance of a particular function, for example, engineering, design, HR, finance and IT are the responsibility of the most senior function manager. This is the group that primarily defines capability and performance within the business, not only as a result of the people they recruit, the policies and processes they establish and the investments they decide to make in tools and technologies – but also by the culture and values they establish in how people approach their work.

Driving change

To enable continual improvement in your organisation, it is essential for everyone to understand that change is a very simple process, achieved by acting on no more than 4 variables:

  • People;
  • Policies and processes;
  • Tools and technologies;
  • Culture and values.

However, too often we fail to understand the dynamics of change and focus our attention on the wrong variables. Generally speaking, it is easier to change how things are done than it is to change the capability of the people doing them and even harder to change the level of commitment, desire and passion for achieving success.

For example, if the strategy for a football club is to win the Premier League then we can improve performance by:

  • Buying new players;
  • Changing process – i.e. the tactics used
  • Investing in tools and technologies  – training grounds, statistical analysis;
  • Improving culture – establish mechanisms to motivate and reward good performance.

Often it is the culture within the club and creating a team spirit that will produce the fastest results. The continual improvement allows an organisation to address the changes in their products and services, while also providing the opportunity to analyse their efficiency and effectiveness against their key objectives.

They must work with the rest of the organisation to ensure measures are appropriately reviewed and that actions are continuously taken to improve performance. However, as outlined in the example above, for change to be effective culture of objective evaluation and improvement is essential at all levels within an organisation – at product/service delivery level, within each function, and at the organisation level.

At the CQI we have developed a new Competency Framework for quality professionals. It is designed to develop their skills and benefit organisations, by highlighting the importance of good governance, assurance and improvement to business leaders across all industries.

A company that fails to adapt meaningful key performance indicators is unable to improve continually and will ultimately fail its customers, shareholders and employees.

To find out how the CQI can help develop your quality staff, visit: http://www.thecqi.org/Competency-Framework/


David Armstrong

Head of Profession

The Chartered Quality Institute



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