Long term business success is rooted in creating a high quality product, and maintaining that level of quality.  In this era of social media, one low quality product review can go viral and destroy a company’s business.  The best way to avoid this scenario is with a quality management system.  

Businesses commonly use audits as a quality control.  But audits only catch a fraction of the errors that may be affecting your products and only catch those errors after they have occurred.  Wouldn’t it be better to avoid errors in the first place? To prevent flaws from occurring businesses need to implement a quality management system. 

Quality management systems can be complex and you may wish to engage the services of a quality management consultant to help you review your processes.  But whether businesses chose to hire a consultant or not, they should understand the critical components of quality management systems. 

1.  Employee Buy-In

Employees tend to hear process improvement, and think outsourcing or automation.  Businesses trying to implement a new process need employees on board so that they will participate in defining current processes and be willing to implement the change.  The bottom line is employees who are afraid of losing their jobs will not participate actively in a process redesign.

Reassure your employees that the motivation behind the process changes is quality and customer satisfaction.  If your employees buy-in to the idea that happy customers mean secure jobs, they will happily participate in process discussions and be quicker to adapt to change. 

Communicate that you know you are asking something of them above and beyond their day to day job and offer an incentive.  Everyone loves a group lunch or a project t-shirt.  Consider it a small investment in employee satisfaction and project success.

2. Systems Approach

Businesses are inclined to approach quality management by mapping out flow charts of processes within departments.  This is a good start, but to truly achieve quality goals you must also look at the processes between departments. 

No department acts on its own.  Waste occurs in processes when one department doesn’t have the same priorities of the other and forces a department to wait on a response or action.  Departments can have a competitive rather than cooperative relationship.

Redundancy can happen when two departments are repeating the same step because they don’t know the other department is completing the task, or worse yet don’t trust the results of the other department.  Competitive and distrustful departments will hinder your quality processes.

Likewise, good inter department communications and relationships are the foundation of an effective quality management system.  Therefore, don’t just map out processes within departments, make sure to map out how departments interact as well. 

3. Quality Manual

Every quality project should start with a quality manual that grows with the project.  It should be electronic, readable by all stakeholders, and editable by a select few.  The first think you will add to your quality manual will be your objectives or goals.

Keep goals in the forefront to stay on track through the project.  Next, add the scope.  Every project should be defined by while will be included and just as importantly, what will be excluded.

As the project progresses, you will add flow charts of current process and future processes.  Also include any policy or procedure manuals and compliance regulations that apply.

4. Data Management

If you are not currently measuring your customer’s satisfaction, do so now!  Also have an easy way for customers to report dissatisfaction.  You need that data in order to create lasting quality changes.

Just as important as customer satisfaction is your supplier’s performance.  Are they delivering on time?  What is the quality of their product?   Is it consistent?  You cannot build a quality system for your product if you are creating it out of subpar components.

Businesses should also collect data to identify trends, trends in the quality of the product being delivered and also in customer expectations.  Finally, businesses need to gather data on product quality and process monitoring.  Is the process being followed and it is providing the desired results?

5. Data Backed Decisions

Managers are often confident in their decision making abilities.  They are familiar with their products and suppliers and based decisions on their knowledge.

However, studies have shown that we humans actually aren’t that good at decision making.  We are influenced by our emotions.  Managers also have a tendency to base decisions on what was true in the past, rather than what is true now. 

Decisions must be based on math.  Use the data collected in #4 to determine what processes are effective and what processes need revisited.  Constantly review the data.  Just because a process was effective last year, does not mean it is effective today. 

Consumer needs and wants are constantly changing, so too must businesses constantly evolve.  Quality management is not a one time project, but a commitment to continuous improvement.

6. Defined and Documented Processes

Speak to three employees in the same role and you are likely to get three different ways of doing the same set of tasks.  You might even find they have three different understandings of why they are performing their tasks.

Defined and documented processes will help you achieve consistency across employee rolls.  Consistency leads in a straight path to higher quality products, but it can only be achieved when processes are documented in black and white.

7. Document Control

Process documentation is the guide book for quality management.  It needs to be communicated widely.  At least annually, have your employees review and sign off on understanding your policies and procedures.

Managers should use the written documents to encourage conformity within the company and to enforce implementation if necessary.  Policies are only worth something if they are being followed.

Finally, your policy and procedures should be reviewed by a manager annually and updated when necessary.  They can quickly become outdated with changes in staff or technology.  You cannot leave your employees with an outdated map to follow and expect high quality results.