Difference Between Continuous Improvement and Continual Improvement

Continuous Improvement vs Continual Improvement

As continuous improvement and continual improvement are related subjects and are connected with the production process, it is helpful to know the difference between continuous improvement and continual improvement. This article describes some of the continuous improvement techniques such as 5S and Kaizen, continual process improvement cycle such as PDCA cycle (Deming Cycle), and presents you a clear explanation of the difference between continuous improvement and continual improvement.

What is Continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement is a technique used for improving the efficiency of the process by eliminating waste and non-value adding activities. This was practiced through various Japanese concepts like Lean, Kaizen, 5S, etc. Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort used in developing products, services or processes.

Kaizen is a concept from Japan, which is highly regarded as a method that can be used to develop and improve a process in an organization. The name consists of two Japanese words, “Kai”, which means impermanent and “Zen”, which means non-separation. However, the concept Kaizen basically means continuous improvement. It suggests that something must be continuously improved with little improvements at a time, throughout the period. When applied to the workplace, Kaizen means continuous improvement involving everyone, manager and workers alike. Kaizen can be identified as a process-oriented philosophy which suggests that the process should be identified and analyzed well in order to attain success.

Kaizen first attempts to identify the problems and areas for improvement and then proceeds to improve daily operations. The importance of this concept is that it can be applied by using resources existing in the company. It also gives a clear picture of the process that can be used to identify the areas to which the new technology, etc. should be brought in.

Similarly, lean concepts and 5S concepts can be used for improving overall efficiencies in organizations. These concepts are focusing on achieving quality by eliminating waste and non-value adding activities, which result in producing quality products with zero defects and errors.

Continuous Improvement


What is Continual Improvement?

Continual improvement is about identifying and making changes that would result in better outcomes which is a central concept to quality management theories. With regard to ISO9001 framework, the continual improvement must be an essential requirement of the organizations.

Dr. Edward Deming, who is considered to be the father of quality management worked together with Japanese automobile manufacturers in the middle of the 20th century on improving the quality of the products. Apart from the work, Deming introduced the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle (PDCA) for continual improvement.

Plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle also known as Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle is a commonly used method for continual improvement throughout the world.

Difference Between Continuous Improvement and Continual Improvement

In the PDCA cycle, at the Plan stage, the varying opportunities for improvements can be identified. The theory is tested on a small scale at the Do stage. The results of the test are analyzed at the Check stage, and the results are implemented in the Action stage.

The planning can be tied with the stage where ideas are generated. The model is useful in different organizational scenarios especially in intense work situations such as processing plants and workshops. Undertaking this model provides feedback and new knowledge to justify the facts and figures and to increase the overall working well being.

What is the difference between Continuous Improvement and Continual Improvement?

Although these two terms sound equal, there is a difference between continuous improvement and continual improvement.

• Continual improvement is a concept initially introduced by Dr. Edward Deming, to make changes and improvements in the existing systems to produce better outcomes either by adopting new technologies or methodologies.

• Continuous improvement is a subset of continual improvement, with more focus on linear, incremental improvement within the existing process. Kaizen, 5S and Lean are some of the continuous improvement techniques.

• Both these concepts are concerned of improving the quality of the process and thereby increasing the productivity of the organizations. 


Photos By: Musinik (CC BY-SA 3.0)