Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)

Continuous quality improvement came into existence in manufacturing as a different approach to quality and quality systems. It does not focus as much on creating a corporate quality culture, but more on the process of quality improvement by the deployment of teams or groups who are rewarded when goals and quality levels are reached. CQI allows individuals involved in the day-to-day operations to change and improve processes and work flows as they see fit.

CQI implementation attempts to develop a quality system that is never satisfied; it strives for constant innovation to improve work processes and systems by reducing time-consuming, low value-added activities. The time and resource savings can now be devoted to planning and coordination.

CQI has been adapted in several different industries. For example, in health care and other service sectors, it has taken on the acronym FOCUS-PDCA work:

Find a process to improve.

Organize to improve a process.

Clarify what is known.

Understand variation.

Select a process improvement.

Then move through the process improvement plan:

Plan—create a time line, including all resources, activities, dates, and personnel training.

Do—implement the plan and collect data.

Check—analyze the results of the plan.

Act—act on what was learned and determine the next steps.

The FOCUS-PDCA acronym is an easy system for management to communicate to teams, and it helps them stay organized and on track with the end result in mind. The system has proven to be very successful for the CQI team approach

Six Sigma

Six sigma was developed at Motorola in the 1980s as a method to measure and improve high-volume production processes. Its overall goal was to measure and eliminate waste by attempting to achieve near perfect results. The term six sigma refers to a statistical measure with no more than 3.4 defects per million. Numerous companies, including General Electric, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler, have credited six sigma with saving them billions of dollars.

Six sigma is a statistically oriented approach to process improvement that uses a variety of tools, including statistical process control (SPC), total quality management (TQM), and design of experiments (DOE). It can be coordinated with other major initiatives and systems, such as new product development, materials requirement planning (MRP), and just-in-time (JIT) inventory control.

Six sigma initially was thought of as a system that could be used only in manufacturing operations, but more recently it has proven to be successful in nonmanufacturing processes as well, such as accounts payable, billing, marketing, and information systems.

At first glance six sigma might seem too structured to be effective in analyzing processes that are not standard and repetitive as in manufacturing situations, but the theory of six sigma is flexible enough to suit any process. Nevertheless, many of the lessons learned on production lines are very relevant to other processes as well. The following is a brief description of the steps involved in the six sigma process:

1. Break down business process flow into individual steps.

2. Define what defects there are.

3. Measure the number of defects.

4. Probe for the root cause.

5. Implement changes to improve.

6. Remeasure.

7. Take a long-term view of goals

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