Continuous vs continual improvement LO19862

Jon Krispin (
Mon, 16 Nov 1998 11:19:46 -0500

Greetings to all!

Recently, there have been a series of postings on the list regarding
continuous improvement. I would like to propose that the interchange in
these messages was actually discussing continual improvement, not merely
continuous improvement. For a long time, I used these 2 terms
interchangeably, but not anymore. I believe that the lack of a clear
definition between these 2 concepts has lead to a lot of fragmentation
amongst those in the business of facilitating improvement.

Looking back, I don't even remember when I began to pick up on the
distinction between continuous improvement and continual improvement.
Maybe it was when I first read Reengineering the Corporation by Michael
Hammer and James Champy. They spent some portion of their book
distinguishing reengineering from the continuous improvement emphasis that
they attributed to Deming (primarily). Their argument was that continous
improvement was limited to linear, incremental improvement, while their
approach lead to radical change and improvement. I couldn't find any
reason to disagree with their definition of continuous improvement and
then their categorization of themselves as different, but I definitely
disagreed with their conclusion that they were the next step beyond
Deming. I felt that Deming's understanding of improvement was much
broader and included the type of thinking that they were proposing (a side
note, Deming's application of SPC was focused primarily on continuous
improvement of existing (and almost exclusively manufacturing) processes.
His philosophical discussions, however, included considerations much
further "upstream", such as redesigning the entire process with the aim in

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I picked up on the fact that Deming
himself never used the term "contiuous improvement". Rather, he used the
term "continual improvement". I later learned that this was an
intentional distinction that Deming made, and that he often objected when
people associated him with continuous improvement (this is not to say that
I am drawing the same distinction that Deming would have made - I never
had the chance to ask him directly).

So, then, what is the distinction between continuous and continual
improvement? Continual improvement is broader in scope than continuous
improvement. Continuous improvement is a subset of continual improvement.
Continual improvement also includes room for *discontinuous* improvements
(improvements that are not like in kind to what came before - another term
for this might be innovative or radical improvements such as are sought
after in most reengineering efforts, or in the lean manufacturing
movement). Continuous improvement, in my taxonomy, is just what Hammer
and Champy defined above - linear, incremental improvements to an existing
process (Kaizen). Continual improvement includes this, as well as
discontinuous/innovative improvement. In other words, continual
improvement speaks to the PROCESS of improvement (always and forever
(continuallly) ongoing, in all of its forms and in all areas) rather than
the NATURE of the improvements (continuous vs discontinuous) - kind of a
meta-level perspective.

To wind all of this up, thinking of continual improvement vs continuous
improvement may be an exercise in semantics, but, at least for me
personally, it serves to highlight the importance of developing the
learning disciplines on a much deeper level than most organizations seem
interested in considering. If continually improvement is to be attained,
the organization will be, by definition (at least mine), a learning

Is anyone still reading? Does anyone else see this distinction?

Jon Krispin


"Jon Krispin" <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>