Continual improvement: How is it different from continuous improvement?

In my college days, one of my professor used to describe all the Quality management jargon quite diligently but then I didn’t get the point behind all that effort. Now I see how people make use of some popular interchangeable words so loosely; ‘Continual improvement’ is one of their victim!

I quickly did a google search and found this funny yet apt explanation:

The words continual and continuous are like twins: they both come from continue, but they get mad if you get them confused. Continual means start and stop, while  continuous means never-ending.

Though when we talk with respect to improvement…

The adjective continual describes something that’s recurring, that happens again and again.

The adjective continuous describes something that occurs over space or time without interruption.

My professor used to describe the difference between two in following ways-

Continual Improvement

Continuous Improvement

We can comfortably say that continuous improvement is a subset of continual improvement. The term ‘Continual improvement’  also includes room for discontinuous improvements (innovative or radical improvements, such as in the lean manufacturing movement).Continuous improvements are linear, incremental improvements to an existing process (Kaizen).

Though I tried my best to explain the difference, your comments are welcomed to add more to this topic.


Deepika Misra

QA Alliance


All you need are these 4 steps to transform the way you work!

I was going through Deming’s philosophies again, and this struck me that the Shewhart (PDCA) Cycle is still the most applicable methodology of doing things in a systematic manner to improve continually. The USP of PDCA is it’s simplicity!

[We also call it Deming’s/ PDSA cycle (after Deming made it popular, influenced by Shewhart’s work). Here’s a good link to understand the difference between PDCA and PDSA]

In fact, whatever the name we put to a methodology of improvement, in it’s core it is PDCA!

Let us again see what is PDCA, with a hypothetical example (and it’s complex one on a minimized scale)…

We’ll start a Start-up (something en vogue these days :)) and get along a systematic approach…

Plan: Planning for- how to come up with ideas and evaluate them, how to get users and grow, how to do sales and marketing, how to hire, how to raise money, company culture, operations and management, business strategy as well as measures to assess the performance. This means, we have to plan for everything and anything that it takes to establish a company. We must have our goal(s) in mind and in writing!

(An interesting site on ‘starting-up’, I came across while doing some research for this example)

Do: Start executing the plan to establish the company. And, establish the company..collect data as per plan .

“Wow! Mission accomplished let’s have party…” 

Wait!! How do we know that mission is accomplished?? To answer this lets move to next step.

Check: Assess the Plan vs. Execution, evaluate the current performance. Whether the sales and marketing is going as per plan, whether we have raised enough money to perform activities needed for our service delivery, is our hiring as per plan and so on so forth.

Act: And during assessment, it’s found that we have done fairly in some of the aspects, like money generation while need more to do in few others (Service delivery,people and resource management).We take actions to correct our shortcomings and also to sustain on what we did well…

Now, continual improvement comes clearly in the picture. Based on the improvement learning and a sustain (standard) phase, we again plan future course of action and the cycle this ways goes on and on. [One day we may reach to a state where we could say, ” Voilà! Mission accomplished.”]

In essence, whatever task we have in hand, if we follow this systematic approach we are never going to fail. Though there are improvised/ modified forms of it available now, but I believe that all the necessary elements are well intact in PDCA and it’ll give quite comparable results.

Cheers and happy working!