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Topic Title: Continous vs Continual
Topic Summary: Defining Improvement as Continuous or Continual
Created On: 04/03/2014 12:51 PM
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04/03/2014 02:23 PM
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281337
Kim Massé



I would like to initiate a discussion around the topic of defining lean improvement as "continuous" or "continual". Most of the literature and websites out there (including LEI) define the term as "continuous improvement". I have a problem with that as follows:

Per the dictionary: continuous means "continuing without interruption" while continual means "steadily recurring". I think it is impractical to think of improvement in an organization as continuous because that is practically and literally impossible, whereas to be improving continually makes more sense in that improvement in an organization realistically happens piecemeal and in "intervals".

"steadily recurring" improvement is the most that I can expect of my clients when implementing a QMS (Quality Management System). Even when improvement isn't occurring "all the time" it is improving or trending in continual fashion over time.

Does anyone else feel this way or do you think I am taking the meaning of the words too literally? What say you? Thank you for your input.
04/08/2014 06:14 AM
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zawarcli
Clinton Warrington



Continuous Improvement = Every day improvement, Everywhere improvement, Everyone Improvement!
Continual Improvement normally belongs to isolated individuals or departments in an organization and does not occur every day.
So to answer your question....Lean improvement can be both in my opinion, it all depends on the filosophy that your organization uses. Toyota to me is a prime example of Every day improvement, Everywhere improvement and Everyone Improvement. The key to any organizations leadership is to be able to impliment a structure were this is possible. Many companys claim to be lean companys or apply the principles of lean in isolation. This does not make them a "Lean" company. This is extremely hard to atchieve.

Also you refer to a QMS, so i think you are also refering to the ISO 9000 family of standards. ISO 9000 only talks about continual improvement. This to me is the great "flaw" in the current ISO system because of the type of culture this word creates. The word creates confusion and generally does not lead to anything postive in my humble opinion.
04/08/2014 06:15 AM
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AaronHunt
Aaron Hunt



I do not think you're thinking too literally, but I think you're not thinking at an extended value stream level with your definition. As an orgnization, why can't improvement be continuous? For example, a company with 20 locations globally, 4000 employees, 100 customers and 500 suppliers could surely work on improving their extended Value Stream without interruption if they put a modicum of commitment to the Lean journey.

Likewise, I have been in a facility that did 24 kaizen events in 1 year. Between the events, the pre and post work, and our daily improvement efforts on the shop floor and design teams, I think we were in a continuous improvement mode. And we took our op profit margin from 5% to 20% in one year in a 20 year old facility that was part of a larger global conglomerate. What a fun year that was!

So in my opinion continuous is the correct term - an organization won't see the greatest results if they focus on one improvement at a time - there's too much opportunity and too many process owners. Build the culture of improvement, and it becomes continuous. The best organizations I've worked in you could find someone making an improvement every day, most of them very small, but they are improvements. But not every person, every day is only focused on improvement, because then the actual value add work isn't being performed as needed. Most people don't have that capacity for change. But across the entire organization, you can always find improvement - therefore "continuous".

So in your example - just within the QMS - it is unlikely to see "continuous" improvements. But if your clients only focus on their QMS and do incremental improvements there and nowhere else, what will be the real impact to their customers and their profits? Likely very little, because the actual processes of adding value are rarely being changed. And maybe this is one reason of many why some people think lean doesn't work. Just a thought to consider.

IMaybe because "continuous" sounds too hard we think it can't be right? That this is another thing that is just lost in transalation? Lean is supposed to change the organization - and this type of thought reminds me of organizations that want to change the lean principals and definitions of waste to fit their organization. If we modify the principles to fit the organization, we've changed the tools, not the company. Lean is simple in theory, hard in practice. Continuous is more difficult than continual - but it is not impractical at a Value Stream level. I don't think it's like the goal of pursuing perfection which is unattainable and yet remains a basic principle of lean. Yes, most organizations will start with continual improvement, but they should strive for continuous improvement by creating the culture and capacity to do so.

Just one man's perspective.
04/08/2014 06:16 AM
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Boeing_Lean
Ken Hunt



Kim,

Just one person's opinion, but this sounds like splitting hairs to me. Be careful not to fall into the trap of taking the terms to the extreme too literally. We are better served expending our energy making the improvements.

Ken
04/08/2014 06:16 AM
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Spike
Michael Gilbert



"Continuous" is the ideal; "continual" is the reality. I'm fine with either. There is too much jargon in LEAN anyway.
04/08/2014 06:16 AM
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PhilScott
Phil Scott



An excellent point and humbly worded appeal Kim! Having said that, I've found that most folks aren't as concerned with such precise denotations, even those who write standards. To most people I think "continuous" or "continual" imparts the correct sense of not settling into a "That's good enough" mindset.
04/08/2014 06:16 AM
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8663
Paul Todd



I heard this discussion several years ago when the ISO standard began to use the word "Continual", and I must say I think it's one of the least valuable distinctions I can imagine.

It is a conference room exercise in hair-splitting, and in my opinion is not worthy of your time and talents. Call it what you like, just do it.

Paul Todd
04/08/2014 06:16 AM
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Robert_Simonis
Robert Simonis



If improvement is approached as a project or program, where they improve, stabilize, plateau, then next improvement. This would look like a step chart or continual improvement. If everyone, everywhere, is improving everything, every day, then improvement would chart as line or curve with out steps - that is continuous. Improvement measured in a particular place or by a particular metric may be continual because the continuous improvement is not reflected in that one measure. Example: labor hours per unit may chart as a continual process in a step function but needs to be improvements in product and process design, logistics, etc. that will allow the next step to occur. Said another way: metrics may show a continual improvement as a result of continuous improvement.
04/08/2014 06:16 AM
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JimBecker
James Becker



While it is normally best to use words for their precise meaning, in this case I have to suggest staying with continuous for two specfiic reasons:
      1. Continuous has been used for decades and it would cause signficant confusion to change terminology now. I have seen other technology areas have a significant split over a terminology change where people almost went to war over the proper usage.
      2. Continuous may have been the chosen term because the improvement effort was almost continuous even if the effects were discontinuous. We don't want people to think that they only need to consider improvement on a continual basis.
04/08/2014 06:16 AM
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leanwannabe
Brian Koenig



Kim,

ISO uses "Continual" and I'm under the impression it is for the reason you state.

While it can provide for some enjoyable dialogue, personally, unless someone comes in and makes a big deal about the difference (i.e. and auditor auditing to the ISO standard and giving a nonconformance for not having improvement without interruption) I wouldn't spend too much time splitting hairs about the difference.

If you have continuous improvement, you have achieved the intent of continual improvement - correct?

Brian
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