Quality

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1. What does quality really mean?

Everyone who has thought deeply about quality agrees that it most definitely does not mean luxury. Some would say the gurus contradict each other, but really the differences are simply about emphasis.

  • What makes an appropriate definition will vary according to circumstances.
  • Adapt (not adopt) the definition best suited to you.
  • Deming – quality means consistently providing something of a quality the customer is prepared to pay for.
  • Feigenbaum’s TQM combines quality leadership, technology and organisational commitment.
  • Juran – quality is defined by the customer, not the supplier.
  • Crosby – poor quality has a financial cost.

2. Quality matters to the company

Attention to quality enables you to stay in business.

  • It lends you a competitive edge, provided you continue to improve.
  • It affects profits positively as long as you make sure you are doing the right things, in the right way, keep measuring costs and results and ensure that your systems and policies gel.
  • It can affect profits negatively if you neglect the customers’ points of view or fix the results.
  • Someone, somewhere will be able to undercut you, so going for quality helps you to compete against low-wage economies.
  • It saves on the costs of checking, waste and reworking.
  • It can positively affect employee motivation.
  • Customer expectations are rising all the time.
  • Tendering rules often insist on a formal ‘quality’ approach.

3. Quality is an investment

Setting off on the road of quality, or continuous improvement, does have immediate set-up costs, including consultancy fees, training and process improvement works. But there are rewards:

  • Initial returns will come from process improvements, which should soon reduce the cost of poor quality
  • Medium-term returns should come from improved working practices that save on waste of materials and/or effort
  • Longer-term returns on investment depend on how well quality has taken root in your organisation.

4. Quality is not a cure-all

You still need a good framework of leadership and management in place.

5. Quality is important for you

This does not mean that it’s just up to you – you need commitment from senior management and you may need a specialist to explain, train, advise and so. But ultimately, it’s also up to you.

  • You need to walk the talk and talk it.
  • Keep trying to find ways of doing it better.
  • Work smarter, not harder.
  • Think about your customers’ needs.
  • Remember that this way you get to keep your job and you get more out of your work.

6. Six key components of quality

Experts may differ about where to place the emphasis. Whatever the most appropriate balance in your circumstances, all deserve attention:

  • A focus on customers’ needs and on improving areas of your business that are critical to success
  • Commitment from managers and supervisors at all levels
  • Systems that encourage innovation or contribution
  • Responsiveness to changes in circumstances and to any issues a customer may have
  • Action – plan your improvement, do what it takes, check and act on the findings
  • Having a good product or service

8. Where to begin

Prepare the ground first.

  • Sell the idea within your work area – through conversation rather than broadcasting.
  • Overcome resistance – discuss fears and become more informed yourself.
  • Become a role model: walk the talk, focus on results and encourage a blame-free and rewarding environment.
  • Encourage a customer-focus.
  • Involve customers in the process.
  • Talk with key suppliers.
  • Consider competitors – benchmarking can work.
  • Assess current performance – consider what data will be most useful.
  • Decide which aspects of your business to improve.
  • Plan carefully – choose a coordinator, allocate resources, include project tasks in job descriptions and minimise risks.

9. Start with what’s manageable

Starting small gives you the chance to practice new management styles and process improvement techniques in a relatively safe way, so you are more expert when you move onto the hard stuff.

  • Check how well existing procedures work – document what works well, but change what does not and then document it.
  • Get expert (enough) – some techniques do not require great expertise, while for others you may require facilitation or training.
  • Get some quick wins, to encourage enthusiasm.
  • Make change easy to propose.
  • Become comfortable with not getting it ‘right first time’
  • Cooperate with other functional teams to break down any ‘them and us’ attitudes.

10. Eight ways to maintain momentum

Continuous improvement takes time and resources, determination, drive, and persistence.

  • Spread the news, telling people what is being changed and the benefits.
  • Encourage complaints – treat them as learning opportunities.
  • Make quality everybody’s business.
  • Keep leaders ‘on message’, managing upwards when necessary.
  • Measure change – how else will you know which changes have made a difference?
  • Experiment on a progressively larger scale.
  • Dedicate time to keeping things shipshape.
  • Finally, be patient.

11. Do you need a quality initiative

People can react negatively to a formal initiative, but you may need this to get things off the ground and for specific expenditure. However, you should not need a quality initiative by the time quality becomes simply ‘the way we work round here’.

12. Should you adopt a particular quality model?

Following a model will save you reinventing the wheel and will give you some ideas about how to proceed. On the other hand, if you follow one too slavishly you risk losing the spirit, turning the whole thing into a lifeless ‘box-ticking’ exercise.

  • ISO accreditation may fit the bill, if you just want to qualify for competitive tendering exercises.
  • EFQM Business Excellence Model is widespread in Europe.
  • Malcolm Baldridge Criteria form the US equivalent.
  • Specialist models have been developed in fields such as primary healthcare.
  • Some companies have chosen to develop their own: a notable example is Toyota.

Whichever method you choose, a quality approach should

  • Add to rather than hinder your strategic aims
  • Support innovation rather than preservation of the status quo
  • Help, not hinder, people in their work
  • Be done by not to employees at all levels.

Regardless of the model adopted, the keystone of the whole structure is building a Quality Attitude.

13. The main quality models

  • BS, EN, ISO standards: externally accredited standards administered by public bodies, such as the British Standards Institute (BSI). BS indicates a British Standard, EN a European one, and ISO an international one. You may see more than one such prefix where a standard has been harmonised with other organisations. Thus, ISO 9001 may be referred to as BS EN ISO 9001.
  • ISO 9001 is the international standard for quality improvement.
  • ISO 9004 is the twin of ISO 9001, covering the system for managing the quality improvement system itself.
  • ISO 14001 is the international standard for Environmental Management Systems (EMS).
  • BS 5701 Guide refers to quality control and performance improvement using qualitative data.
  • There are many other standards for many aspects of economic activity such as Construction, Fire, Health & Safety, and so on.
  • Specialist variants such as the motor industry adaptation QS9000.
  • EFQM Business Excellence Model: this is a self-assessment tool developed by the European Foundation for Quality Management, with the option of external assessment, and competitive awards available. It is based on five enablers of excellence (Leadership, People, Policy & Strategy, Partnerships & Resources, and Processes) and management of four results areas (People, Customers; Societal; Key Performance). Derivatives have been developed for
  • Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs)
  • The Public Sector
  • Special interests, such as diversity.
  • Six Sigma is used in many manufacturing and service industries. Its key themes are customer focus; data-driven management, process focus and improvement, cross-functional collaboration, and aim for perfection but take risks.
  • Sector-specific models or adaptations have been developed, such as the Royal College of General Practitioners model for primary health care.

14. The quality manual

You need a manual, unless you can think of something better. It should

  • Reflect actual working practice
  • Facilitate flexible responses to customer needs
  • Encourage innovation
  • Address those processes
  • Which are critical to business success
  • Where consistency is important
  • That may occur so infrequently that people have to work them out afresh each time
  • Show a level of detail that balances the need for consistency with the need for flexibility.

Either have a good effective procedure that supports innovation, or don’t have a documented procedure at all. Just because something is not in the manual, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!

15. Measuring quality

If you don’t measure quality, then how will you know whether your hoped-for improvement has made a difference?

  • Measure the few things that are truly vital.
  • Question the results and evaluate the measures themselves.
  • Find soft as well as hard measures, to take account of influencing factors, such as company culture, management and peer behaviour, HR and financial systems, perhaps along the lines of a ‘balanced scorecard’.

16. Glossary of techniques

Some of the main techniques are briefly described and explained. To learn more

  • Visit the business section of any library
  • Key the names into search engines
  • Attend a few seminars
  • Talk with someone who knows what they are talking about
  • Invest in training
  • Note how many of the techniques come back to W Edwards Deming!

17. The main quality gurus

Taken together, and allowing for the occasional outright disagreement on methods, what they say is that sometimes you need evolutionary change, sometimes revolution; and always be mindful of processes, people and the interdependencies.

  • W Edwards Deming took his management ideas from the US (where they were broadly spurned) to Japan, where they were seized on with enthusiasm. He is perhaps best remembered for Statistical Process Control (SPC), but considered two of the besetting sins of western management to be lack of consistency of purpose, and overdependence on financial and other figures.
  • Joseph Juran is probably best known for the concept of the internal customer chain, and for continuous incremental improvement through key projects.
  • Kaoru Ishikawa is best known for Quality Circles and the fishbone diagram, used for determining root causes of presenting problems.
  • Philip Crosby is probably best known for the concept of ‘zero defects’ as the quality standard, and that the cost of quality is the price of non-conformance (PONC)
  • Tom Peters took a values-based approach to quality. He considered that excellence came from treating customers like guests and employees as people.