What is Quality Management?
In a general and cross-industry sense, quality management is everything your organization undertakes to ensure quality. To do this effectively, everyone within the organization must contribute, but quality management must be centrally supported. When this is the case in an organization, it is often a department within or close to management that is responsible for improving the quality of the organization, processes, services, products, or customer service.
Why Do You Need Quality Management?
As an organization, you are always looking for improvement. Increase sales, develop better products, create more beautiful designs, hire more and better staff; you can pursue quality improvement in many ways across the entire organization. However, even if you initiate various initiatives that should lead to quality improvement, it doesn't automatically mean that your efforts will actually lead to the desired improvement. Quality can also decrease due to external influences, internal problems, unforeseen circumstances, or a staff shortage (consider, for example, the concept of the VUCA world).
In practice, you often lack good insight into your current process performances, or standards for processes are not clearly established. This makes it difficult to start with quality management. If you don't start with a clear vision of quality management, you'll get stuck before you even started. In this case, quality management models can offer a solution, as they provide the tools to ensure you make the right decisions. You implement a quality management model in your organization by using quality management software – this ensures a structured approach and allows everyone within your organization to participate in the process. This is an important condition, as quality management only works well when everyone is moving in the same direction.
What does ISO have to do with quality management?
The ultra-short answer is: everything. This is not very surprising, as we often hear the terms ISO 9001 and quality management mentioned together. But why is that the case? To begin with, ISO 9001 is the recognized standard when it comes to quality management. If your organization has earned the ISO 9001 certificate, you demonstrate globally that you can consistently deliver products and services that meet the required quality. You can also look at it the other way around: if you haven't properly designed and implemented quality management within your organization, you simply won't qualify for the ISO 9001 certificate.
Innovative quality management
There is a high degree of consensus on the idea that not only the quality manager within an organization is responsible for quality – 95% of quality managers agree with this, as research shows. Everyone within the organization is responsible for quality; and this idea is also embedded in the ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 standards. Chapter 4 of the ISO 9001 handbook, which discusses leadership, communication, and involving and facilitating people, states it as follows:
Quality management must be communicated, understood and applied.
The connection between strategy and practice, between management and the people on the work floor, is central here. This requires new competencies, from both managers and employees, and in many cases, new processes and systems that need to be introduced in the organization.
Is quality management measurable? How?
Quality management = improvement. Improving processes, a product, information flows. But when is something better? And how do we measure that? Is it actually precisely measurable? There are methods, certainly. The best way to measure it is to express it in money. Even better is to express it in 'money to be won' or 'money to be saved'. For a food manufacturer, for example, you could calculate what it would yield if there is less overproduction, or when waiting times and transport are optimized.
Quality management in five actionable items
As indicated earlier, quality management is not something that only plays a role in one part of the organization, but ideally lives and is practiced within all divisions and processes of a company – certainly within the management team. But how do you start quality management within your organization in a good way? Here are five concrete action points that provide the necessary guidance to properly start with quality management within your organization.
Insight into the status of the quality of processes, for example, around production or logistics, forms the basis of optimizing those processes. Insight into what each stakeholder does, how current processes run, or the extent to which customers are satisfied, indicates where the opportunities for improvement lie.
Whether you do this using the PDCA cycle, Lean, Six Sigma, or any other quality management model, is not the most important thing. Insight is what you need; you choose the model that helps you best achieve that insight. The PDCA cycle is a process that consists of four steps: Plan, Do, Check, (Re-)Act. Due to the cyclical nature of this model, there is a continuous process, which in practice means that you continuously pay attention to quality improvement. Quality management through process management, so to speak.
Working with a model makes it clear to everyone within the organization in which phase the organization is, what the next step is, and what the goal of that next step is. Working according to fixed steps and processes provides structure. Employees also become accustomed to the way of working, ensuring quality management always gets priority.
Create a support base
Improving quality alone within an organization is difficult; quality management is something that must live in all layers of the organization. You need colleagues who want to join in your plans and changes.
To get them on board, it's important to make colleagues part of the change. Involve them in the process, give them a say, and be clear about the goals.
Having a clear vision and mission to hold on to is important because change generally always causes chaos within an organization. A clear vision, ideally coupled with a clear action plan, offers at least a bit of light at the end of the tunnel of change.
Make it practical
Innovation also has far-reaching practical consequences. If quality management is new to the organization, employees will have to get used to a new way of working and a new way of thinking. If you're setting up your quality management, i.e., switching to another model, then your employees will have to get used to a new system where everything – quality manuals, documentation, internal audits, reports, and external audits – looks different. You don't have to be clairvoyant to understand that this will have a huge impact on their work.
Make it fun, try to familiarize employees with (a new method of) quality management in a relaxed way instead of constantly having them on their toes to learn a new system as quickly as possible. Experiment with internal audits by applying a different audit methodology. There are various types of internal audits. The best-known methodology is a classic process audit, which looks at whether procedures are being properly followed in practice. But it can also help to do something different: surprise your employees by having them participate in a result-oriented audit. Or audit the customer-friendliness of your organization: for example, what risks are there that stand in the way of optimal customer experience, and how does your staff deal with them?
Quality management also means constantly looking for ways to do things better, more efficiently, and less time-consumingly. Waste due to manual actions is one of the biggest inhibitors of growth. This applies to internal processes within your organization, but certainly also to your quality management system itself.
Why keep Excel sheets by hand if this can be done in real-time? Why write a voluminous report about the context of your organization if a simple mind map suffices, or is even preferred?
Quality management means not only looking at the quality of products, services, or processes but also critically examining the software and other systems surrounding quality management. Keep evaluating and keep optimizing. And don't be afraid to change if the situation calls for it.