Continual Improvement vs. Continuous Improvement - Terminology Semantics


Jimmy Olson

Howdy everyone. It seems like the terms "continual improvement" and "continuous improvement" are both tossed about and interchanged. There is also some debate on whether these two terms mean the same thing.

I know the prefered term as far as ISO is concerned is "continual improvement. Does anyone have any opinions on if they feel these terms are the same or if they have different meaning? Thanks.
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Mike S.

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I don't know if there is an ISO definition for continuous improvement. Continuous to me means "never stopping" and so is not in reality possible in absolute terms.

Does this help any?

ISO 9000:2000 clause 3.2.13 defines continual improvement as: recurring activity to increase the ability to fulfil requirements (3.1.2). NOTE: The process (3.4.1) of establishing objectives and finding opportunities for improvement is a continual process through the use of audit findings (3.9.6) and audit conclusions (3.9.7), analysis of data, management (3.2.6) reviews (3.8.7) or other means and generally leads to corrective (3.6.5) or preventive action (3.6.4).


Continuous vs Continual


Continuous: a string of uninterrupted events
Continual; a never-ending string of uninterrupted events (could be a sting of continuous events)



I've seen this discussed in various website forums and someone usually pulls out some sort of mathematical type of definition, etc.

The consensus seems to be that they are different, but people who are used to seeing "continuous" used in older documentation say that there is no reason to be anally semantic.

I'll be sticking with continual, myself, to be on the safe side. What's the harm in being exactly grammatically correct?

Mike S.

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The text below is from and seems to jive with the ISO definition and with what I've seen before. It makes sense to me. So, these are the definitions I will use:

Continual: Recurring regularly or frequently: the continual need to pay the mortgage.
Continual is chiefly restricted to what is intermittent or repeated at intervals: The continual banging of the shutter in the wind gave me a headache. Continuous implies lack of interruption: The horizon is a continuous line.


Here's how I have explained it to my Internal Audit Team:


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Continuous- improvement that goes on on a regular basis.

Continual - planned improvement based on PDCA

Mike S.

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Just my opinion -- and it is semantics -- but I say there is no such thing as "continuous improvement" as that would mean it literally NEVER stopped -- even if the person driving it needed a potty break. :)

Can someone tell me where the term "continuous improvement" is being used as opposed to "continual" and why? I realize this debate is a trivial one, but I'm curious.

barb butrym

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don't you strive for improvement, even while you are on a potty break? You mean to tell me you are not thinking of how to improve your project/system/product when you are on a potty break? how dare you........If I was your boss you would be fired.



Uh huh

I just can't imagine being asked the difference. Good discussion though. Kind of like Preventive and Corrective Action varying opinions. The things we worry about.:bonk: As if we don't have enough knots in our stomachs.:vfunny: :ko: :smokin:
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