Continuous Process Improvement

as a Function of Program Management



By Steve Ford

Colorado, USA



Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) is the process of improving processes. While a somewhat esoteric definition, the reality is that CPI is ubiquitous throughout industry and is necessary to improve the manner in which a company develops and implements processes (Eaton, 2013; Carleton, 2016). A robust CPI program can result in overall improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of both existing and emerging processes, thereby helping to streamline the overall production process, to include the critical path (Eaton, 2013; Carleton, 2016).

Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) also refers to the management effort of improving organizations via a focus on customer satisfaction as a function of organizational effectiveness and efficiency (Eaton, 2013; Carleton, 2016). CPI is not difficult to reconcile within existing practices of program management, as it is now considered mainstream and is therefore commonly accepted as a facet of program management. Indeed, the Project Management Institute (PMI) lists it as a process within the discipline of program management (PMI, 2013). Six Sigma, Lean, Total Quality Management (TQM), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Agile techniques all have their established places in program management (Sanchez & Blanco, 2014).

Paradoxically, CPI is both hundreds, if not thousands, of years old and also an emergent trend in program management (Eaton, 2013). CPI includes a philosophy of continually improving one’s processes for production, which is apparent in ancient weapon and pottery production processes (Eaton, 2013). It is also evident in the more recent example of the commonly accepted birth of Lean, the Venetian galley production process in the 16th century. By utilizing Lean concepts such as “standardized processes and interchangeable parts” (Eaton, 2013, p. 4), the Venetians could produce a high-quality, low-cost galley in as little as an hour (Eaton, 2013). In the last 50 years, the Toyota Production System and Motorola’s manufacturing arm showed similar results regarding cost and quality (Carleton, 2016).

As well as being an ancient philosophy, CPI is an emerging trend in program management, only receiving broad acclaim in the last 50 years (Vanwersch et al., 2016). Modern CPI can trace its roots to the work of Shewhart in the 1920’s and his work regarding controls and statistical analysis of systems (Eaton, 2013). However, it was not until Deming and his work with Japanese industry in the 1950s that CPI gained notoriety following the Japanese industrial explosion centered around lower costs and higher quality (Carleton, 2016). Even more recently, CPI techniques such as Just-in-Time (1970s), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 (1980s), Six Sigma (1980s), Total Quality Management (TQM) (1980s), Lean (1990s), and Agile (1990s) are still currently being adopted and adapted by program managers across all industries (Eaton, 2013; Carleton, 2016; Sanchez & Blanco, 2014).

CPI’s Emergence, Relevance, and Importance

The major CPI initiatives include Just-in-Time (JIT), Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean, ISO, and Agile (Sanchez & Blanco, 2014). All six of these methodologies existed for some time before being thoroughly vetted and defined. As previously discussed, the Venetians instituted Lean methods in the 16th century. Six Sigma practices can be traced to Shewhart’s work with control charts in the 1920s. In short, all six of these now mainstream methods can be traced back decades, which is why the more recent emergence of formal methodologies in the last 30 years is paradoxical.

Even if the methods existed previously, it was not until the late 1970s that these systems were codified and instituted at a global level. Along with a substantial shift towards efficiency and quality in the manufacturing industry, CPI as a philosophy hit its stride in the 1980s (Sanchez & Blanco, 2014). Since then, CPI has been included in every major program and project management instructional course (Vanwersch et al., 2016). It is now a part of health care initiatives, the service industry, and mainstream to the point that the Environmental Protection Agency recently stood up an office of continuous improvement (Environmental Protection Agency, 2018).

In any case, CPI’s emergence and relevance is, like the methodology itself, a continually evolving mechanism. New methods are introduced continuously, such as Lean Six Sigma being introduced as late as 2001. Tweaks to the Agile process were released in 2011 (Vanwersch et al., 2016). All six primary methods of CPI are undergoing the CPI process, enabling more specific and effective practices, in addition to a near-constant emergence cycle.


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How to cite this paper: Ford, S. (2019). Continuous Process Improvement as a Function of Program Management; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue VII, August.  Available online at



About the Author

Steve Ford

Colorado, USA




Steve Ford holds a BS from the US Air Force Academy (2004), an MS in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota (2009), and is currently in the Doctorate of Management- Project Management program at Colorado Technical University (2021). Steve is currently the managing member of Advanced Applied Project Management Solutions (LLC), a project management consultant firm. He holds numerous project management-related qualifications, including Project Management Professional (PMP), Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Professional, Project Management- Lean Process Certified, Lean Supply Chain Management Certified, and Lean Culture Certified. He has more than 18 years of aerospace and construction experience in project management.  He can be contacted at