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The True Benefits Of A Quality Management System

To see quality through the eyes of customers and exceed their expectations, an organisation must first know what its customers want.

Let’s be honest, there are plenty of times when organisations might want to get ISO 9001 certification to tender for a contract, or to get on a supply chain list.

Government, local authorities and larger organisations sometimes require certification before they will consider a tender from a supplier. Even if certification is not a mandatory requirement for a customer, it will give them an advantage over their competitors.

In far too many of these cases certification just becomes an end in itself, rather than a genuine desire to improve the way the organisation operates.

However, even in these cases, many companies are pleasantly surprised by the benefits that a Quality Management System does offer, even if that’s not the focus they originally started out with.

What are the true benefits of Quality Management System?

Quality management adopts the perspective that all parts of an organisation and all its employees can have an impact on quality. Although the errors of those in direct contact with its customers may be more instantly recognisable, the errors made by those who have only an indirect role also detract from quality.

For example, the poor design of a product may dissatisfy customers, or a clerical error may result in an angry customer if it leads to their being invoiced incorrectly. Quality management takes a truly systemic approach to organisations; it is based on the belief that quality will come about only if all employees and all activities of an organisation are involved:

  • An organisation is viewed as a system of interconnected people.

  • Any action taken anywhere can have an impact on quality.

  • Suppliers are part of this system, and in a spirit of partnership are included in improvement activities.

  • Quality is viewed from the customers’ or end-users’ perspective.

To see quality through the eyes of customers and exceed their expectations, an organisation must first know what its customers want. Building a relationship with, and getting closer to, its customers is essential if it is to gain a thorough understanding of their expectations.

Quality management highlights the important role played by all those who deal directly with its customers, those providing services, sales and marketing staff, and so on. Such staff have an invaluable opportunity to obtain vital information about the perceptions that customers have about the organisation and its products and services, and can gauge any changes in customers’ expectations and any indications of their future requirements.

Everyone must commit to quality

But what about those who operate well away from their customers? Quality management addresses this with the concept of a chain - in this chain everyone in an organisation, no matter where they work in it, is considered a link, and the chain eventually leads to an external customer.

Put simply, if quality is maximised as a product or service moves along this chain, then ultimately the external customer will be satisfied. Changes in customers’ requirements can also be communicated backwards along the chain. These chains stretch back to suppliers who are themselves external to the organisation.

For this concept to work in practice, good communications throughout an organisation are essential. This leaves no place for the inter-departmental barriers and ‘turf wars’ that can characterise so much of organisational life and hamper effective communications within the organisation. Quality management simply cannot work within an atmosphere of ‘them and us’.

Quality should always be at the top of the management agenda and be an issue that requires leadership from the very top of an organisation. Senior managers’ lack of commitment is recognised as the most significant barrier to achieving the successful implementation of quality management. This is why senior managers need to develop a quality strategy for their organisation that will:

  • make clear the broad aims and long-term goals of its Quality Management System (QMS);

  • define how quality management fits into its corporate objectives and strategy;

  • describe the actions needed to implement QMS;

  • indicate the resources needed for its implementation.

You must demonstrate your commitment to quality

Fine words are never likely to be enough, however. Managers need to demonstrate their commitment to quality management by their actions. As well as setting the framework for quality management by putting into place appropriate quality systems and procedures, supportive performance measurement systems and reward schemes, managers also need to demonstrate a personal commitment to quality management by, for example, fully participating in all quality improvement programmes.

There are three factors which are common to all approaches to Quality Management Systems:

  • management commitment and quality policy;

  • the use of tools that constantly and quantitatively monitor and compare performance results;

  • teamwork.

The successful implementation of a Quality Management System requires a supportive organisational culture - a culture of quality. There is a strong sense of learning from mistakes and avoiding the apportionment of blame. In this culture, everyone takes responsibility for achieving quality improvements, but such an environment can only be built on mutual trust, with a management style that does not depend on blame or fear.

Article originated in The Ideas Distillery blog

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