Quality: Not a Goal but a RouteBy Jaime Castro | Wed, 07/20/2022 - 16:00
Quality is a concept that is quite misunderstood and often undervalued.
For many years, there was the idea that having a quality management system was a way of guaranteeing through papers that the company had quality in its activities. However, the implementation of a quality system is only the tool through which we will ensure that our products or services reach, maintain and eventually exceed the quality requirements of interested parties.
Quality is not a thing; it is an idea, a concept, a way of life aimed at meeting the requirements of the interested parties. As such, quality is not palpable but perceptible. We cannot speak of quality without clearly defining what the expectations or requirements of the interested parties are, since the level of quality achieved will depend on their degree of compliance.
Customers do not need a paper certificate, nor do they need an extensive sales speech where the word quality is mentioned at the slightest provocation, nor is it useful for them to know that their suppliers have hundreds of procedures and formats. What they really expect is that the products or services they have contracted solve the need that gave rise to this relationship with their supplier. In other words, quality is demonstrated by results, not words. These results can take many forms but whatever their form, they must be measured and controlled.
Having a formal quality management system should not be the objective but a means through which the organization establishes the rules, controls, and indicators necessary for all its areas to unify efforts in obtaining results that satisfy (and exceed) the needs of the parties interested in it.
Quality is not achieved as a result of the work of an area or person within the organization; it is the result of the correct interrelated functioning of its processes and the collaboration of the people who make these processes possible. That is why it is said that quality is managed as a system.
A system is a complex entity where its components are interrelated in a material or conceptual way, ordered within a defined structure and which in turn coexist within an environment.
The first time I faced the challenge of implementing a quality management system, I realized (like many others) that the main flaw in its implementation did not lie in the quality of its procedures or in its written policies. The real problem was in those who would eventually use and implement this system as part of their processes.
Quality is not made by computers or written on paper. It is made by people. People are the ones who decide whether or not to work in a quality environment, they are the ones who choose more complicated or simpler ways to implement it and, ultimately, they are the ones who assume the responsibilities related to the quality management system and its impacts of non-compliance.
In the recent implementation of the Quality Management System for the company where I work, we realized that the implementation and eventual certification became a relatively simple and agile process, compared to those who start the process from scratch.
Since the foundation of the company (and even before), we have invested in and worked toward an organizational culture where quality and operational processes are aligned with the mission of not only satisfying but exceeding customer expectations. On the other hand, at all levels of the company there was always a conviction about the importance of not only having a quality management system but that this was one of the cornerstones for the differentiation of the level of our services.
Having a Quality Management System is not only having and maintaining quality in the results but also implies the daily work needed to exceed the expectations of the interested parties so that continuous improvement becomes the guiding axis of the quality efforts.
Quality, in fact, should not be a goal, but a route. As a goal, and in an environment of continuous improvement, it would be unattainable. As a route, it gives us the elements for constant improvement and permanent adaptation to the new demands of the markets, processes, customers, the country, etc.
It is for the above reasons that I allow myself to suggest, from my personal experience, 10 important aspects to consider before and during the implementation of a quality management system for those who wish to raise the level of their results and control of their processes:
- Have the conviction to do it. The process of implementation and maintenance of a QMS is complex and requires a lot of work. If the interested parties are not convinced of its importance and benefits, the work can be complicated beyond what is necessary.
- Know your processes. An ISO 9001-type quality management system places special emphasis on management commitment at the beginning of the implementation process and, often, management is the least involved or least to know about its processes. Its leadership during the implementation, maintenance and certification depends largely on the knowledge that management has of its processes and implications.
- Prepare. Get training, understand the quality philosophy, and learn about tools that will be very useful during its implementation: project management, process mapping, statistical control, communication techniques, implementation of measurement indicators, etc.
- Create a culture of quality. Quality culture is not created by decree, it is exemplified and promoted from the highest positions, it is evangelized. Quality must become one of the most important values in the company.
- Communicate. A system as complex as a quality system, which has so many interrelationships, must have excellent communication, particularly with regard to changes, risks, objectives, measurements and controls.
- Know the stakeholders and their interests. Quality can have various stakeholders (both negative and positive), and it is these stakeholders who can influence the outcome and direction taken by the system in various ways. Identifying them in advance, as well as their interests, allows us to take precautions, and to favor and promote those interests so as to avoid damages caused by them.
- Do only what adds value. A quality management system should not cost more than necessary and should add direct value to the company's operations and results, either through improvements in efficiency, sparking greater interest from customers as a sales argument, avoiding losses or simply having better control of resources.
- Use critical thinking. The methodical use of critical thinking will raise the level of discussions, presenting solid arguments, defining more objectively the activities that add value and those that do not, as well as making the best decisions during implementation.
- Planning, planning, planning. As the saying goes, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” Advanced and correct planning will allow establishing from the beginning the correct levels of effort, deliverables, implementation of project milestones, times, responsibilities and necessary control points to measure the success of the effort. Implementing an SGC has a cost and this becomes more efficient with adequate planning.
- Consider it an investment. A properly implemented quality management system for the right reasons will necessarily pay off but not all of its benefits will be felt immediately. Cultivate it, plant it in your people and your processes. Money will not necessarily get you to a quality management system; rather, the system will attract resources by increasingly permeating your organization and your customers.
One last thought: Having a certificate in Quality Management System should not be the goal; rather, it should be the crowning glory, the icing on the cake of the effort to implement a system that is believed in and of a philosophy that is lived daily.