This has reference to your request for an explanation of the difference between the terms “continuous improvement” and “quality control.”
The most authoritative source of information pertaining to “quality” or “quality management system” applied in commerce worldwide is the International Organization for Standardization or ISO (see www.iso.org).
ISO is an organization of member countries responsible for the development of various standards, like, the standard sizes of paper (A4, A3, D3, etc.), the standard size of bolts and nuts, standard units of measurement (metric and English), and so on.
The most popular of these standards is the ISO 9000 Family of Standards which requires suppliers—companies who are in the contracting or sub-contracting business or companies that provide services to other companies (the purchasers of goods and services)—to develop a “quality management system” compliant with ISO 9000 standard. Two of the ISO 9000 Family of standards are the “consistent pair of standards,” namely: (a) “ISO 9001:2000 – quality management system requirements” and (b) “ISO 9000:2000 – quality management system fundamentals and vocabulary.” These two standards include the terms “continual improvement” and “quality control.”
In the world of commerce or specifically in economics, there is a so called the principle of “Supply and Demand” from which the concept of Supply Chain or Supply Chain Network (SCN) is derived. SCN requires the interdependency (of various entities involved in the chain) and the coordination of commercial activities (among the involved entities). Companies that claim to be ISO 9000-certified or ISO 9001:2000 QMS-Compliant or ISO 9001:2000-registered/certified company are business enterprises that have an established “quality management system” modeled before ISO 9001:2000 standard. These ISO 9000-registered companies are sometimes required to be ISO 9000-certified before they are awarded with contracts. A company that practices the entire tenets of the consistent pair of ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 9000:2000 are said to be providers of the best services and producers of the best products (see ISO, 2005).
In ISO 9000:2000 all the terms used in the fundamentals of management are defined and are used as the authoritative references of terms or “vocabulary” similar to the way people use the definition of words in a dictionary. For example, the term “quality” is defined as the “degree to which a set of inherent characteristics … fulfills requirements” (ISO, 2000a). In this standard, the various concepts and their relations are shown. For example, the term “requirement” is related with other terms, like, “grade,” “quality,” “capability,” and “customer satisfaction.” The term “quality control,” for example can be seen as attached or related to the term “management,” “top management,” “quality policy,” “quality objective,” “system,” “management system,” “quality management system,” “quality management,” “quality planning,” “quality control,” “quality assurance,” “quality improvement,” “continual improvement,” “effectiveness,” and “efficiency.”
“Quality control” is defined as the “part of quality management focused on fulfilling quality requirements”; and the term “continual improvement” as “recurring activity to increase the ability to fulfill requirements.” In the standard, the term “continual” is differentiated from the word “continuous”—the former is similar to the Niagara falls, that is, there is no interruption of waterfalls when it started falling from day one until today; the latter refers to a continued activity, however, there is a sequencing or stopping in between. One of the five main elements of ISO 9001:2000 is “8.0 Measurement, analysis, and improvement” wherein a company is required to demonstrate results of “continual improvement.”
The term “continuous improvement” can be found in literatures pertaining to “TQM” or “Total Quality Management” and “BPR” or “Business Process Reengineering.” TQM is the opposite of BRP. TQM “refers to the integration of all functions and processes within an organization in order to achieve continuous improvement”; while BRP refers to the “fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical … measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, and speed” (see Stockenberger, 2000, pp. 266-267). The term “continuous” in TQM refers to a piecemeal undertaking of improvement, that is, after the achievement of the first undertaking, a team may sit down for a while then take under improvement initiative.
“Continuous” or “continual improvement” cannot be said to be better than “quality control” or vice versa. It is a matter of applying the concepts or principle and the results will decide.
The undersigned appreciates receiving your kind feedback to the submission of your request. Thank you.
1. ISO (2000a). ISO 9000:2000 – quality management system fundamentals and vocabulary. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization.
2. ISO (2000b): ISO 9001:2000 – quality management system requirements. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization.
3. ISO (2005-03-15). ISO 9001:2000 – What does it mean in the supply chain? (03-15) http://www.iso.org/iso/en/iso9000-14000/explore/9001supchain.html (July 2006).
4. Stockenberger, H. J. (2002). Total Quality Management & Business Process Reengineering: An Integrated Approach. In The Bahrain Society of Engineers & Saudi Arabian Quality Council First Gulf International Quality Conference, Exhibition & Workshops, Quality Beyond 2000 Challenges & Opportunities (pp. 263-279), Manama, Baharain.