Even though quality management is a well-established body of practice, it often still feels like it’s more art than science. In many ways, quality managers must strike a balance between not having enough process and sometimes having a bit too much of it. They must consider the human element, – particularly some of the cultural aspects of quality and how people respond to QMS initiatives. In many respects, quality management is as much about leadership as it is about the nuts and bolts of company processes. Let’s look at some of the key do’s and don’ts of quality management:
DO Focus on the Customer, DON’T Fall Prey to the Slippery Slope
Quality always begins and ends with the customer. The very definition of quality is centered around meeting the customer’s needs. It’s about delivering on the promises that your company makes when it offers your product for sale, – whether those promises are explicit or implied.
Companies that excel in delivering quality products and services know this. That’s why quality champions establish a baseline expectation that permeates everything their organizations do. Quality is non-negotiable. If the company ships product that fails to meet customers’ expectations, it needs to be fixed. The problem needs to be understood and prevented from reoccurring in the future. Yes, failures happen on occasion; but quality champions do everything they can to avoid them.
Now consider the alternative. It’s a world of trade-offs. Deadlines must be met. The pressure to meet a product release date can be overwhelming. That’s especially true if you have a seasonal product, or if you’re playing in an especially competitive market space. When QA says the product isn’t ready, but executive management opts to release anyway, the company may be putting quite a lot at risk. Unfortunately, many of the organizations that have grappled with this problem have learned the hard way that the long-term costs to the company’s reputation can be significant.
Unless quality is established as a non-negotiable standard, these kinds of decisions can become a slippery slope. The best approach is to hold fast to that standard and do whatever is necessary to exercise any other levers of control that management might have at their disposal. Make quality non-negotiable.
DO Foster a Data-driven Mindset, DON’T Allow Subjectivity to Take Over
Quality guru W. Edwards Deming famously said” In God we trust. All others must bring data.” Stuart MacDonald, founder and CEO of FreshBooks, put it a bit differently: “Either you’re analytical and data-driven, or you go by what you think works. People who go by gut are wrong.”
Quality management systems must be designed to ferret out variability, identify the root causes of non-conformance, and detect anomalies that threaten to undermine quality. In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to collect data, to store it, and to analyze it. Historically, that’s been a tedious process. The cost of collecting and managing data was relatively high; forcing quality managers to focus on the most essential numbers.
Today, data collection capabilities are greater than ever. Not only can we collect more, it’s also easier to store and analyze that information. Many of the data sources that might previously have been considered subjective are now accessible for analysis. Unstructured data such as online reviews and social media feeds can now be broken down with natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to quantitatively assess positive and negative sentiments. Many are even capable of detecting linguistic nuances such as sarcasm.
This is groundbreaking insofar as it fundamentally changes how quality managers might view subjective judgments about their products and services. Indeed, subjectivity has the potential to cloud the judgment of internal stakeholders by giving excessive emphasis to a small number of users. Monitoring user feedback can be extraordinarily valuable, – but quality management practices should remain obsessively focused on hard data built upon meaningful sample sizes.
DO Provide Sufficient Documentation, DON’T Make it More Complicated than it Has to Be
We’ve all seen cases in which products and processes were poorly documented, or perhaps not documented at all. This can create major problems insofar as it is often accompanied by a lack of alignment around standards and expectations. This is a case where the adage holds true, – if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Or in this case, if you did not put your agreement in writing, then you’ll have to rely on people’s memories. Often, that results in misaligned expectations around quality standards, processes, or product specifications.
It is possible, however, to have too much of a good thing. When documentation becomes an end unto itself, it can expand to the point at which internal stakeholders reject it as being excessively bureaucratic and burdensome. QMS managers in many organizations already struggle with a perception that quality processes are unnecessarily tedious. One way of pushing back against this perception is to simplify processes and documentation to the point that they are accessible and useful, without being overly complicated.
DO Consider the Human Element, DON’T Make it Difficult for People to Comply
That leads us to another critical point; quality processes themselves must be user-friendly. The simpler a process is, – the fewer steps that are involved and the easier it is to accomplish, – the more likely it is that employees in your organization will embrace it.
Consider a simple data collection process, for example. Imagine your company’s existing process involves collection of information on a handwritten sheet, which is later transcribed to a computer-based form. That requires a substantial amount of effort, including recording the same information twice. Photos or other attachments, if required, must presumably be managed on a separate device and uploaded to the online record when it is created.
Now imagine the same process on a tablet device. A user can carry it around the shop with them, enter information on the fly, and even add photos or recorded notes with a few taps on the screen. A Wi-Fi connection makes that record available to the QMS system immediately, where it can automatically be routed to the appropriate person to take further action as required.
There are additional potential nuances here, including a user interface design that simplifies the data collection process and avoid presenting the user with any extraneous information. The bottom line, though, is that when you make quality management easy for your users, you make it more likely that they will embrace quality practices.
DO Get Leadership Fully On Board, DON’T Leave Culture to Chance
Perhaps the number one “do” of quality management is getting company leadership fully on board with quality as a company philosophy. On the Intellect blog, we’ve written a lot about building and nurturing a culture of quality. While many organizations find it easier to start with the concrete nuts and bolts of quality management, – there are profound benefits to building an organization in which quality is a core shared value for the entire team. In fact, many of the do’s and don’ts on this list are critical factors in driving that shared commitment to quality.
In addition, management should give voice to its quality commitment on a regular basis. That includes presentations at company meetings, awards and recognition, and informal settings. When top management is clear and consistent in their position that quality is non-negotiable, others in the organization will follow their lead.
If your organization striving to build an outstanding culture quality, we’d love to talk. Contact us today to discuss your quality initiatives, and to arrange a demo of Intellect QMS.