Modeling continuous improvement evolution in the service sector: a comparative case study

Chris Milner, Barbara Savage

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    Purpose - The paper aims to make a contribution to existing knowledge regarding how service-based organisations establish and sustain incremental performance improvement. Alongside a review of existing continuous improvement (CI) evolution theory, the longitudinal study draws a comparison between two units of analysis within a leading UK financial service provider.

    - Adopting an interpretive philosophy and inductive nature, the study employs a multi-qualitative methodological design. The multi embedded case study allows for an intensive review and in-depth exploration; conducted over a three year period. The longitudinal time horizon makes use of a narrative enquiry, reflecting upon behaviour and allowing the researcher to gain access to deeper organisational realities. A thematic analysis of empirical data offers insight into the evolution of Continuous Improvement over almost a decade of activity.

    - The findings establish that there are numerous obstacles faced, and a wide variety of methods, tools and techniques that may be blended together under the auspices of a formalised CI programme. The challenge is in sustaining, embedding and associating value from CI within the everyday life of the infinitely complex structures and prevailing cultures of organisations; ideally involving all staff, emphasising CI in all things, at all levels, all the time, forever.

    - Evidenced through a thematic narrative the paper answers the call for existing frameworks of CI evolution to be tested within the private and service sectors. The research offers an application and reflection upon the Bessant et al. (2001) Maturity Model against the CI evolution in a real world scenario.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)438-460
    JournalInternational Journal of Quality and Service Sciences
    Issue number3
    Early online date1 Sept 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2016


    • Continuous Improvement
    • Maturity
    • Evolution
    • Service Sector
    • Behaviour
    • Value


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