What is Continuous Quality Improvement?
CQI is a management philosophy that emphasizes organizations, systems, and processes to result in effective services and efficient use of resources. This approach:
- Promotes the recognition of internal and external “customers”
- Mandates that decisions are based on objective data (not opinion)
- Proposes failures are a result of flawed processes (not flawed personnel)
- Insists quality aspects are built in from the start
- Proposes that quality improvements are incremental and continuous
Rather than accepting the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the CQI philosophy is, “If it ain’t broke, make it better.”
CQI creates an environment where all stakeholders can contribute to constantly improving quality. A small, but notable measure of success I have observed has been staff response to a problem before and after their exposure to the CQI philosophy. In the “before” days, process failures generally resulted in condescending comments such as, “not my problem”, “they never listen to me”, “I told them that was a problem” and similar comments that promoted the us vs. them divide between staff and management. In the “after” days, process failures resulted in a very different attitude. Often characterized by the statement, “Let’s CQI this”, where the response was immediately seeking to identify the cause of the failure and the needed quality improvement action.
Core CQI Concepts
Implementation of the CQI philosophy is driven by several fundamental principles that have coalesced to form implementation standards, including the International Organization for Standardization ISO-9000 series of quality management. These principles are:
- Quality is defined from the perspective of the customer. With an emphasis of striving to exceed customer expectations and deliver a positive outcome.
- Problems are the result of a broken process. Identifying the source of the problem is not a blame-game where individuals are labeled as the root cause. The core assumption is individuals are performing as expected but the defined expectations are not supportive of the process.
- All processes experience normal variation and special cause variation. CQI strives to minimize normal variation and to eliminate special cause variation by examining the process and collecting measurable, analytical data.
- Process improvement is the result of multiple small incremental changes that continue over time. Seldom is the case where a single “silver bullet” change is the key to sustained process improvement.
- Process improvement is not a formula. Rather it is an attitude driven by becoming integrated with the normal workday activities in which the stakeholder is continually aware of improvement opportunities.
The CQI Process
Like the processes this approach strives to improve, CQI is itself a process. Different experts define more or fewer steps; I think of CQI as a 4-step process.
1. Plan. CQI teams begin their work by identifying the plan their team will examine. The plan establishes ground rules for team decision making, defines boundaries of the process to be examined, articulates the needs of the stakeholders served by the process, and identifies the measures of success.
2. Implement. This step often begins with brainstorming possible change strategies for producing improvement. Process data is collected, examined, and validated. Process change recommendations are presented to the process owner, introduced to the stakeholders, and implemented.
3. Check. Following implementation, the changed process is monitored and measured. One of the basic validations is to ensure that the process improvements identified in the original plan have been achieved through implementation. Reviewing system, processes, and client feedback is a critical activity. Sharing success stories from the stakeholders is a valuable activity for the team and the process owner.
4. Revise. There will be a wealth of information gathered through these first three steps. This step provides the framework to repeat the process improvement cycle or to declare success and formally end the CQI team. A common outcome of many CQI teams tends to be an informal continuation even after the formal process has concluded. This is a valuable culture change that permeates the organization.
The CQI process results in a high level of accountability, process improvement, and stakeholder ownership. By design, it is intended to a long-term approach maximizing teamwork and flexibility. As a service provider, Credentials Solutions embraces the CQI philosophy and continuously examines opportunities to maximize service and minimize resource consumption. Customer feedback is a primary driver in our desire to continually improve our products and services.
In the next article, I will examine the concept of Student One-Stop service.
Part 1: The User Experience
Part 2: Continuous Quality Improvement
Part 3: One-Stop Student Service
Part 4: The Sphere of Influence
Part 5: Constituent Relationship Management
Part 6: Staffing and Organizational Structure