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Keshav Ram Singhal

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Understanding the meaning – Continual improvement …. Constant improvement …. Continuous improvement

I was addressing a group of participants in a training programme on ‘ISO 9001 QMS Awareness’, while discussing and telling requirements relating to continual improvement, one participant asked me about ‘continual improvement’ phrase used in ISO 9001:2008 QMS Standard and relevant meaning of ‘continual improvement’, ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘constant improvement’ for QMS implementation.

“Continual, constant, continuous all refer to a succession of occurrences. The two adjectives ‘continual’ and ‘continuous’ are synonyms, but not equivalent. The word "continual" incorporates "continuous" and not the other way around. People use ‘continuous’ and ‘continual’ as if they are exact synonyms, but there is difference between them as we have seen from the above and we can understand distinguish between these two. In the eyes of many QMS Consultants there is no difference between ‘continual’ and ‘continuous’. The concept of ‘continual’ improvement has always been used by Deming in reference to the general processes of improvement. Continual improvement is broader in scope than continuous improvement. We can say that ‘continuous improvement’ is a subset of ‘continual improvement’. The word ‘continual’ incorporates ‘continuous’ and not the other way round.” – This opinion is based on the following:


(1) Happening without interruption or cessation
(2) Continuous in time
(3) Of regular or frequent recurrence
(4) Often repeated
(5) Very frequent
(6) Duration that continues over a long period of time, but with intervals of interruption

Synonyms of Continual
(1) Unceasing
(2) Ceaseless
(3) Incessant
(4) Uninterrupted
(5) Successive
(6) Recurrent
(7) Repetitive
(8) Repetitious

(1) Continuality
(2) Continualness

(1) Continual misunderstanding between nations
(2) Continual improvement is a requirement of ISO 9001:2008 QMS Standard.
(3) The organization must continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system.
(4) Continual improvement of the system
(5) The continual street repair disrupted traffic for nearly two years.


Constant implies always recurring in the same way, under uniform conditions, with similar results, and the like.

(1) Constant repetition of the same mistakes
(2) Constant pressure


(1) Being in immediate connection
(2) Being in immediate relation
(3) Uninterrupted in time
(4) Without cessation
(5) Duration without interruption

(1) Continuously

(1) Continuousness

Continuous emphasizes the idea that the succession is unbroken, but successive recurrences are not very close together as observed in continual.

(1) The continuous life of the universe
(2) A continuous pattern of dots
(3) Continuous coughing during the concert
(4) The continuous humming of the fluorescent lights provided him a headache.

ASQ Basic Concept

ASQ basic concept states, “Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort to improve products, services or processes. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once. ….. The terms continuous improvement and continual improvement are frequently used interchangeably. But some quality practitioners make the following distinction: Continual improvement: a broader term preferred by W. Edwards Deming to refer to general processes of improvement and encompassing “discontinuous” improvements—that is, many different approaches, covering different areas. Continuous improvement: a subset of continual improvement, with a more specific focus on linear, incremental improvement within an existing process. ….”


Accordingly, following conclusions are relevant for implementing any management systems (such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001 etc.):

(1) “Continual, constant, continuous all refer to a succession of occurrences.
(2) The two adjectives ‘continual’ and ‘continuous’ are synonyms, but not equivalent.
(3) Whether the word ‘continual’ incorporates ‘continuous’ or ‘continuous’ incorporates ‘continual’, it is irrelevant for a management system professional to find the answer.
(4) People use ‘continuous’ and ‘continual’ as if they are exact synonyms.
(5) In the eyes of many Management Systems Consultants there is no difference between ‘continual’ and ‘continuous’.
(6) The concept of ‘continual’ improvement has always been used by Deming in reference to the general processes of improvement.
(7) For all practical purposes for implementing any management systems in any organization, the phrases ‘continual improvement’, ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘constant improvement’ are, to all intents and practical purposes, the same thing.
(8) It may be 'nice' to understand the etymology of these phrases but it has little practical application when implementation is more important.
(9) We often do ourselves no good in the Quality Profession, in managements' eyes, when we (endlessly) debate the correct phrase usage, instead of delivering results.
(10) The important thing is to continually apply an improvement culture. Promote it, support it and move on.

- K. R. Singhal


mashar said...

Thank you sir,

I just pay attention and know this explanation. Clarity of the concept gives us a new view.

kavi said...

Please give an example for each of the terms like - continual, continuous and constant. This will bring in more clarity.

KeshavRam Singhal said...

Examples may include: Improvement in process / procedure / method, improvement in product / service quality, Improvement in infrastructure, improvement in competence, improvement in the environment for the operation of processes, improvement in resources, improvement in communication, improvement in awareness of people etc.