Towards continuous improvement (CI) in professional service delivery: a systematic literature review

Anupama Prashar, Jiju Antony

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    17 Scopus citations


    Driven by rising consumerism and intensifying competition, the professional service firms (PSFs), across the globe, are realising the significance of established continuous improvement (CI) management systems/approaches. These approaches (such as Total Quality Management, Kaizen, Lean management, Six Sigma, and hybrid methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma) had been popular in the manufacturing environment for product quality improvement and production process simplification. Characterised by high process variability (owning to customised service delivery by knowledge intensive assets), professional services (PSs) need specific CI frameworks for improving the efficiency and throughput of PS operations. There are literature reviews on evolution of academic research on CI in services, in general. However, an extensive analysis of the latest dispersed research on PS is lacking. To address this gap, a systematic literature review of 81 papers published in 35 peer-reviewed academic journals from 1992 to 2016 was conducted. The purpose was to identify the recent developments of the academic research in this area and analyse the status, content, context, and methodology of the research so far. The analysis results indicated the following directions for future research: (a) there is a need for focused research on specific PS settings such as law firms, engineering and management consulting firms, where most of existing research is anecdotal or descriptive; (b) research on the impact of cultural dimensions on the effectiveness of CI implementation; (c) research on the development of CI programmes based on distinctive characteristics of professional work; (d) exploring the potential PS areas where data-driven approaches such as SS could be exploited for process improvement; (e) need for testing established theories; and (f) further exploration into use of statistical tools/techniques of CI. These review findings will facilitate the future academic research on development of PS-specific CI frameworks.

    Original languageBritish English
    Pages (from-to)1-29
    Number of pages29
    JournalTotal Quality Management and Business Excellence
    StatePublished - 2018


    • continuous improvement
    • Lean management
    • Lean Six Sigma
    • professional services
    • systematic literature review
    • Total Quality Management


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