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The past two years have brought about unprecedented changes that have transformed the way business leaders think about the future. Although change has always been part of our lives, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has injected a new tenor into the public discourse about business agility and resiliency. In the past, corporate leaders might have foreseen the evolution of new technology, the entry of new competitors into the market, or routine fluctuations in economic activity; but these days, things appear to be far more volatile.
The abrupt shutdowns that occurred in early 2020 were like nothing we had ever seen before. The vast majority of business leaders rose to the challenge and adapted reasonably well to the new normal. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be winding down, however, we see further disruptive forces emerging that should prompt business leaders to remain on guard. Supply chains continue to be strained. Hiring and retaining workers remains a challenge for many organizations. Price volatility threatens to erode margins and further disrupt demand.
Quality management professionals are certainly not immune to these kinds of disruptive forces. As companies struggle to de-risk and restructure supply chains, as they seek alternatives to the escalating cost of materials, and as the stability of their workforce remains questionable; quality managers are undoubtedly impacted.
How can quality management professionals support continued excellence in the midst of all this change? Here are five strategies for increasing agility and ensuring that your organization remains highly resilient.

#1: Build Repeatable (but Adaptable) Systems & Processes
Perhaps this one goes without saying. After all, quality is all about consistency and repeatability. Nevertheless, whenever things change, it places stress on an organization’s existing systems and processes. Consider, for example, what happens when a process changes. Very often, there will be documents that must be revised and distributed to all of the appropriate people involved.
The job doesn’t end there, though. Outdated versions of that document must be recalled from use so that employees and other stakeholders are not operating with old information. By storing documents digitally and keeping them in a centrally controlled database, quality managers can ensure that they are available at all times yet can be revised and replaced easily whenever necessary. An effective document control system makes companies more adaptable to change.
Another way in which companies can increase agility and adaptability is with a robust change management system. In effect, this provides a structured framework to control tasks and workflows across a highly distributed workforce. As more and more work is being performed remotely these days, a good change management system has become more important than ever.

#2: Assess and Monitor Risk
Although change management and document control can do wonders for increasing adaptability and agility; sometimes it can be difficult to predict the disruptive forces that may lie on the road ahead. Risk management provides a proven process and framework for assessing potential hazards, evaluating the likelihood and impact in the event that those hazards should come to fruition, and taking the necessary steps to mitigate risk.
In addition, a good risk management system will support the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of potential hazards so that additional measures may be taken for mitigation and/or new risks may be identified, evaluated, and controlled. While a risk management system cannot predict the future, it can provide a very beneficial framework around which quality leaders can build an effective risk management program.

#3: Develop Effective Training Programs
As business leaders struggle with challenges in hiring, training, and retaining workers, – consistent and effective training is becoming more important than ever before. For quality, in particular, it is critically important to ensure that employees understand systems and processes and that they appreciate the value of quality and consistency.
Many of Intellect’s customers are using our products to track training and certification, providing a single source of truth when it comes to understanding which employees are trained in specific skills, and which workers can perform designated tasks. This can be especially valuable when companies must make abrupt changes.
When COVID-19 first appeared on the scene, for example, a large dairy business based in the northwestern United States saw a sudden shift in demand, away from restaurants and other bulk purchasers toward a much higher demand from grocery retailers. They reconfigured their production lines to accommodate the transition from a 50-50 mix of institutional vs. consumer packaging to a 90-10 split.
Having clear visibility to the training and skillsets in your organization can give you an edge when it comes to making these kinds of sudden changes in your organization. With strong training programs in place, your organization will be better positioned to maintain high-quality levels.
A discussion of training programs would not be complete without touching upon the environment, health, and safety (EHS). To ensure a safe working environment, prevent workplace incidents, and reinforce your company’s commitment to its workers, EHS provides a valuable tool in maintaining a stable and satisfied workforce.

#4: Implement a Process for Supplier Management
As global supply chains have been disrupted by factory closures, container shortages, and backlogs at major shipping ports, visibility, and control of supply chains have become increasingly important. For many businesses, the prospect of identifying and evaluating new suppliers presents a new challenge among3 what has become a long list of challenges.
For regulated industries, in particular, it’s essential that companies engage in a structured process for evaluating and engaging new suppliers, as well as monitoring supplier performance on an ongoing basis.
An effective supplier management system will automate workflows, streamlining communications speeding the process of vetting potential new vendors. In addition, it helps companies to avoid redundant efforts, and it increases transparency and accountability.
For quality managers, an effective supplier management program ensures that incoming subassemblies, raw materials, and services fully conform with your organization’s specifications. During turbulent times, this additional measure of assurance can go a long way toward maintaining high levels of quality.

#5: Follow the Data
We hear a lot of talks these days about the importance of data and the value of analytics. Quality is no exception. Companies that can efficiently collect data, maintain it centrally, and access it on demand will be better positioned to spot anomalies, identify trends, perform root cause analysis, or develop insights to drive more effective business decisions.
It is still surprisingly commonplace to see paper-based forms used for data collection. Not only does this increase the amount of effort required to gather important information in the first place, – it also requires that information must be keyed into spreadsheets or other systems where it can eventually be made available for analysis. Inevitably, paper copies are sometimes misplaced, resulting in lost data.
A modern QMS system that supports mobile data collection, in contrast, provides simplicity and accuracy. When an organization “goes digital” and eliminates paper-based forms, data can be available immediately, leading to better visibility to KPIs. That, in turn, enables quality leaders to be more responsive when anything changes unexpectedly.

If your organization is seeking to increase its capacity to adapt and thrive during times of change Intellect can help. We develop powerful QMS software that can easily be configured to meet your company’s specific needs. Contact us today to learn more about how Intellect can help you.

What's next?

Now that you've learned about the 5 ways to maintain quality in a changing environment, learn about  "7 Tips on Improving User Adoption".

Peter Cutler

Written by Peter Cutler