Time for a New Quality Assurance Focus

We all know the saying ‘Quality is Everyone’s business’ and have bought the posters and sold the message but how easy is it to make it your culture? Just like your company strategy quality is an integral part of your way of thinking and needs to start exactly here.

So what is it we mean when we look at the Quality in Strategy? One example of a company goal may be: ‘To harness the exceptional skills of it’s people, resources and materials used; to achieve the most efficient and effective way of meeting the customers and future customers needs’. This may be a bit of a mouthful but I see it as not a bad goal to have! The trick is to ensure that this broad statement can be turned into smart objectives (specific (I say simple), measurable, realistic and timely), micro tasks as some like to call them. Together they will ensure that you stay on the path to your goal, but are also small and manageable enough to ensure that you are flexible for ever changing demands. Business is so fast paced compared to the Quality days of old, so change the approach and it will guide the improvements you make. Once you have captured this all important action plan there are three essential phases TRAIN, MONITOR and COMMUNICATE. Ensure that you educate everyone so they know what is expected of them and how they can make a real difference to the company. Monitor how you are performing. Communicate the ongoing results and celebrate everyone’s achievements.

Use technology – whether you are in the cloud or not, get up to speed with the latest apps and software available. Caution – invest in what works for you not the best standard package – bespoke solutions that meet your needs will solve your issues. You will be surprised at how much is available free and when applied in the background can achieve process solutions where the users themselves do not even realise that the actions are being carried. I am specifically thinking of paperwork issues that are growing in the quality industry and the paper trails. Take time to experiment as you are making an investment into ensuring your system is the best it can be.

Develop your Approach to Quality just like any other business goal.

Develop your Approach to Quality just like any other business goal.

My final tips for this re-focus in your QA approach is address the costs of Non-Quality; know what your current level of Quality is costing you. I don’t just mean the scrapped materials, it is the extra time, effort, skills, lost business and poor customer perception. Prioritise these in terms of risk – the risk of not meeting and exceeding your customers needs. Customer focus is key. Link this to what impact these issues are having on your business and the bottom line – now you have a real action plan and a strategy for  investment in your Quality Assurance.

Building Quality into all designs and processes becomes a lot easier when you make it part of your culture and strategy. You may need further investment of time and money along with careful change management but you will be investing in a prevention based system – no more fire-fighting! Fire-fighting takes up valuable time that could be invested elsewhere more efficiently. There are many tools and techniques to help you , mistake proofing, lean, kaizen – my advice is use what works for you and don’t be afraid to adapt them. In many cases they are not set in stone and are usually common sense systematised!

 

How do you change your goal into an improvement project?

How do you change your goal into an improvement project?

In my last blog I raised a list of key areas that I think gain results in the initial improvement focus, so I’ve picked an example to help clarify one approach to starting the improvement journey.

Firstly be absolutely clear on what you are trying to achieve and why.

For this example let us assume that during the initial review the goal of the company was to improve their customer satisfaction, they seemed to be losing repeat business and receiving complaints. This was having a knock on effect to the profit due to loss of sales, returns and rework costs. These goals need to be translated down into meaningful solutions; brainstorming is one of many good problem solving tools that can be used for this. I find it also helps to use structured questions to start discussions.

  • Do you fully understand the product that you are supplying?
  • Do you and the customer understand what they want / need?
  • What are the main reasons for rejection / concerns?
  • Is the process efficient and up-to-date with technology?
  • How are your competitors doing it?
  • How can you fix the customer issues – Are there design issues?
  • Are employees adequately trained and engaged?
  • Is the process documented /consistent/capable?
  • Are there capacity issues or bottlenecks?
  • Where are your check points / Quality Control?

Asking what may seem like a lot of awkward questions at first will lead the investigation. Prioritise these areas and create your improvement opportunities.

 Secondly be absolutely clear on how you are performing before you change.

A lot of changes need to be based on much analysis of data, so each of these need careful consideration. You cannot quantify how much of an improvement there has been or cost saving until you fully understand what is happening and how much it is costing. Simple systems or spreadsheets can be set up for each of the key focus points building up a base line for improvement.

On a final note I would like to say people, people, people they are the key!

Fire up the enthusiasm and convert it into tangible business improvement. Make the improvements from the base level up if they have initiated the changes they will embrace them.

REMEMBER: STAY FOCUSED ON WHAT YOU ARE THERE TO DO AND WHY!

Next instalment: Using your Quality Management system as focus for improvement.

What do you do before starting an improvement Program?

It is great that you have the focus to want to improve, but how do you go about turning this into a workable plan to make it happen? Your goal/solution may not always be clearly visible but will emerge from a desire to improve in a particular area of the business. One of your greatest assets is your people, so harness that knowledge and use their experience of the business processes to improve. When planning any change focus on where the improvements are coming from, who they will effect and how you will communicate this. Managing the change will be crucial to success and minimizing resistance to the change. Take time to focus on the company culture and people before rushing in to improve on what you perceive to be a problem as others may not see things your way!

 

These are my tips for anyone wishing to make a difference in their organization.

 

  • Know where the company sees itself through its Mission statement and Vision.
  • Have a clear understanding of the company’s business processes and the relationships between them (internal & external customers, bottleneck experiences, and the supply chain involved).
  • Understand the customer and the target market, what are the current demands and who are the competition?
  • Know the level of commitment being given to the project / process improvement by the executive board.
  • Identify how information is currently given to employees, for example word of mouth, notice boards, weekly meetings.
  • Look at how the company’s mission/vision is translated down through to the shop floor? Do employees understand what they contribute to the company’s success?
  • Make sure you understand the company finances, operating costs and margins.
  • Identify and manage any risk areas.

 

I believe a company is only as good as its people and culture – make them understand how much they have to offer and what they can do. There will be hurdles but once these are identified then they can be tackled one little step at a time, eventually leading to the big success you seek.

 

Next installment: Process improvement – where do we start?