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Continuous Improvement Managers

The Job

The American Society for Quality defines continuous improvement (which is sometimes called continual improvement) as “the ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through incremental and breakthrough improvements.” Continuous improvement principles can be applied at the organizational, departmental, inter-departmental, project team, functional team, and individual levels. One of the most popular tools for continuous improvement is the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle, which is also known as the Deming Cycle and the Shewhart Cycle. Here’s an overview of the cycle, according to The W. Edwards Deming Institute.

  1. Plan: Identify a goal or purpose, formulate a theory, define success metrics, and create a plan of action.
  2. Do: The components of the plan are implemented, such as making a product.
  3. Study: Outcomes are monitored to test the validity of the plan for signs of progress and success, or problems and areas for improvement.
  4. Act: If the plan was successful, implement it on a larger scale, and continually assess the plan. If it was unsuccessful, adjust the goal, change methods, or even reformulate a theory altogether.

Other well-known methods of continuous improvement include:

  • Six Sigma (visit http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/six-sigma/overview/overview.html for more information)
  • Total Quality Management (http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/total-quality-management/overview/overview.html)
  • Lean (http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/lean/overview/overview.html)

Job responsibilities vary for continuous improvement managers, but most have the following duties:

  • identify products, services, or processes that need improvement and apply continuous improvement (CI) methods such as Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle, Six Sigma, Lean, and Total Quality Management
  • train, coach, and mentor organization employees and CI staff regarding continuous improvement strategies
  • update organization executives about ongoing continuous improvement initiatives both orally and in writing
  • monitor existing CI processes to ensure they continue to encourage high levels of efficiency
  • develop processes and systems to ensure the sustainability of improvements
  • oversee and direct the work of continuous improvement analysts and other staff
  • assist in the design of work standards, quality control charts and systems, and other elements of operational excellence to aid CI improvement
  • serve as their organization’s primary thought leader on CI strategy
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