In No Uncertain Terms

Description: When thinking about the terms “continual” and “continuous,” an argument can easily be made that a relative difference exists. The main difference between the terms is time.…


Keywords: Continuous improvement,Continual improvement,International Organization for Standardization (ISO),ISO 9000,Terminology

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Why confine it to just 'Continuous' vs 'Continual'? I prefer the term 'Progressive Improvement'. That communicates, in my mind, the idea without the hang-ups. The key thing is to have an outlook of improvement in what we do to serve the customer.
--Karl Pallister, 09-02-2019


I feel we should focus on the organization improving over time including a customer focus. Since most organizations are managed by human beings, people make mistakes and sometimes a reversal happens. If a corrective action is taken and the reversal is not repeated, then lets allow that to happen. Look at the overall change for some time period and see if things get better. Which word allows this depends to some extent which dictionary definition you use.
--Mickey Christensen, 08-30-2019


My commentary requires more than a brief blog. I am not convinced by Reber's article for many reasons.
--Gregory Watson, 06-26-2019


With respect to human or organizational improvement efforts, I'd prefer to use continual. To me, while the spirit or intent may be the same, continuous suggests some type of literally constantly changing approach, even about something we just changed moments (or seconds or milliseconds or femtoseconds or attoseconds) earlier. This could introduce confusion about what is expected and uncertainty about how things are working and where we are headed.
--Wallace Robinson, 06-03-2019


They are synonyms. As long as the company is improving, it does not matter what we call it.
--John Elwer, 05-28-2019


I remember this controversy years ago, discussed in Deming (and Deming-related) seminars. In one of those sessions, the panel agreed that a useful way to think about the difference is to compare a linear (say, 1-to-1, but really any constantly rising) function to a step function. "Continual" implies the step function, where "continuous" refers to the constantly rising function.
I'd be interested in knowing what manufacturing organizations are constantly improving their systems, 24/7. In my experience, it's much closer to the step function. I don't see any point in changing the term...while it may be true that 3 times as many people use "continuous improvement" doesn't make it correct. With the state of math and statistics education in this country, it would not surprise me to find out that that particular finding is accurate. Look at the number of people who still believe in the 1.5-sigma shift...
--Ralph Stauffer, 05-21-2019


When the author states "The main difference between the terms is time—in the definitions of “continual,” there are breaks in time." They did not actually read the definitions in table 1... From Dictionary.com item 2... "Happening without interruption or cessation; continuous in time"
My opinion is that we are getting away from the purpose/intent of the standard when we start picking apart words like this... The purpose of this statement is to work at making the system better... not just once...
--Dave Wylie, 05-16-2019


W. Edwards Deming is recognized as developing the new philosophy for quality management. The distinction between continual and continuous identified in the opening paragraph aligns with his philosophy. Deming concluded that if he was to reduce his message to just a few words, it all has to do with reducing variation. A more common understanding of variation would provide a needed context for understanding the important distinction between continual and continuous. See ASQs Glossary of terms What is Variation? - The Law of Variation.
--Timothy Clark, 05-12-2019


This was an interesting article exploring the differences between continual and continuous. One section of the article explains how the regulatory community concluded to use continual rather than continuous due to an organization's ability to meet this enforcement: "They felt that continuous was unenforceable because it meant an organization had to improve minute by minute, whereas, continual improvement meant step-wise improvement or improvement in segments." I appreciate and support the regulatory community's debate to consider how an organization would meet the goal of improvement. I support the use of SMART (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. From a SMART perspective, the use of the word continual is more appropriate; however, if there is a desire to shift to the word continuous instead, then the expectations of how an organization would be expected to meet this definition and demonstrate this would need to be clarified and well-defined. Thanks for provoking us to think about the context and use of these two phrases.
--Sabrina Abla, 05-08-2019


Hopefully, they provide a clarification if reverting to "continuous". Shortly before the change to "continual", our organization received an audit finding for implementing a change, determined to provide an improvement which it did, however, it also had an unintended consequence. The auditor, in reviewing the action plan put in place, found the unintended consequence to be a non-conformance because our performance actually was negatively impacted by the change, in another area altogether. His definition of continuous was "always improving", not going down at any time in the cycle of activities. Of course, the corrective action was to revert to the previous methodology, but the NCN stood. It is difficult to instill the philosophy of entrepreneurship, when "experimenting" can net one a punishment.
--Kirk Stevens, 05-08-2019


The article is well written, but the author supports the wrong conclusion. If continuous means without cessation, then it is not possible to execute one's job. One would not be working on contract review, design, product/service realization, or the multiple other processes that must be executed within business. Continual improvement is the proper term. It's the only feasible activity for businesses to embrace and for which auditors may find objective evidence.
--Cynthia Aylen, 05-08-2019


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