8.5.1 Continual improvement

Continual improvement draws together various aspects of the Quality Management System:

ISO 9001 requires continual improvement of the effectiveness of the QMS.

What drives continual improvement?

Continual improvement is driven by the objectives set by top management. As a minimum, quality objectives should address:

  1. The improvement of internal efficiency
  2. Individual customer requirements
  3. The level of performance that your market sector expects

There is no requirement that the organisation should set objectives for improvement of all its processes at any one time. It would be unrealistic to expect an organisation to make progress in all potential improvements simultaneously.

Each improvement will require the commitment of resources, which should be prioritised by top management, especially if investment is required.

How do I identify sources of improvement opportunities?

Inputs for improvement opportunities are obtained from the following sources:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer complaints and feedback
  • Market research and analysis
  • Inputs from employees, suppliers and other interested parties
  • Internal and external audits of the quality system
  • Records of product or process non-conformances
  • Data from process and product characteristics and their trends

Opportunities for improvement may also be identified on a special project basis. The following are examples of such projects:

  • Non value-added use of floor space
  • Excessive inspection/testing
  • Excessive handling and storage
  • Excessive failures and costs to quality
  • Machine set-up changeover times

Should I document our continual improvement process?

It is not a mandatory requirement to document your continual improvement process. However, you should always look to adequately define and control any operational processes that stimulate the betterment of your quality management system. Therefore, the implementation of a continual improvement procedure will be appropriate to the majority of businesses.

How's best to document the process?

Develop and implement a procedure that defines the roles and responsibilities for:

  • Sourcing improvement opportunities
  • Evaluating, prioritising and implementing improvement opportunities
  • Reporting
  • Record keeping

Looking for help documenting the process?

We provide a Continual Improvement Procedure template to help you manage this process in many of our ISO Templates.

Measuring continual improvement process effectiveness

The effectiveness of the continual improvement process is often determined by looking for evidence that the organisation has ensured that improvement objectives are consistent with the overall goal of enhancing customer satisfaction and increasing the level QMS performance.