Most people say “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!” This relaxed approach is similar to how companies look at their quality management system (QMS) today. If defects and impacts are low, and regulatory actions are practically non-existent, and you seem to be compliant, why take the time to optimize your QMS? It’s time-consuming. It takes resources. You have other priorities.

But, quality management is not about compliance, rather, it is all about product safety and continuous improvement, and each time we optimize, we improve our preventive measures for avoiding the occurrence of costly defects.

“But hey, I have continuous improvement programs, Six Sigma projects and other lean initiatives,” you say. Although it may be true, continuous improvement programs taking aim at overly long cycle times, variability and waste may be doing so in a silo mentality, preventing manufacturing functions in many companies from seeing the big picture.

Companies that are implementing lean manufacturing programs to improve performance and reduce costs may be incapable without predictable processes built through effective quality management, thereby preventing many lean goals from being met. Untapped potential of quality process automation, which may only account for only 5% to 8% of total plant costs, can still have an enormous impact on efficiency and quality.

Build a beacon

So what needs to be done? Build a quality beacon. Like the captain of a lighthouse, we need to climb those stairs every night and make sure the light shines on, wide and bright, guiding us through potential hazardous terrain and steering us in the right direction. Shining a light regularly on a quality system can actually prevent mishaps and raise the visibility of critical trends-both bad and good.

Starting with four sides, or elements, of the QMS beacon can help achieve on-going optimization-system reviews, harmonization, lean principles and automation.

QMS Reviews and Gap Assessments

First, a clear picture needs to be drawn of how the business creates products across the product value chain. Identify, define the value/measure and risk or critical control points in each QMS subsystem along the business process. Assess the current practices to identify specific gaps between the existing operation and the quality processes by interviewing key personnel, reviewing procedures and observing processes taking place. A comparison is made to ideal and similar operations elsewhere, or by the identified risk in order to set priorities.

Start by comparing the quality plan against all of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and procedures around the quality subsystem, and create a simple checklist.

  • Define. What problem needs to be solved?

  • Measure. What is the capability of the process?

  • Analyze. When and where do defects occur?

  • Improve. How can process capability be improved? What are the final factors?

  • Control. What control can be put in place to sustain the gain?

    Be careful that the SOPs and procedures are not overburdening the processes. Many times we think that continual improvement of the effectiveness of the QMS means adding more words and documents to make sure every little item of the process is covered. Most times, non-value added and redundant information is added that will not be read or used.

    Too much detail also means constant monitoring for changes. Too many changes or inefficiently changing management processes can have a major impact on the operational efficiency of the quality management system and lead to costly issues down the line.

    By doing an effective review, OEE studies and implementing the resulting identified improvements, companies can avoid the costs of unnecessary setup times, materials and tasks. Variability reduction within each key quality management subsystem will help improve flow and quality by making the effectiveness of the operation more visible and less subject to error.

  • Harmonization

    Silo processes and systems for quality management can lead to silo data and the inability to see issues and trends across an organization that may stem from a single problem, such as a supplier component used across multiple business units. However, many companies wrestle with this challenge simply because of the culture change to bring business process users under one umbrella. “We’ve always done it this way, why do we need to change?” is an often-raised question by each different user community.

    Harmonization does not necessarily mean identical, but alignment and compatibility of business processes and data. Due to varying product lines, machinery and client requirements, an organization will not be able to achieve absolutely identical processes. Companies have to take into account global needs and the strategy of the company, as well as local requirements and resources, along with the environment, culture and terminology:

  • Products-specific needs for product or product families that may require some variances

  • Production lines-specific needs for product manufacturing that may require some variances

  • Equipment-specific needs for facilities and product lines

  • Location-plant sites, outsourcing and partners

  • Regulations-global and local governance and regulatory agencies that impact process

  • Suppliers-global and local sourcing impacting process

  • Employees and contractors-headquartered and local resources to participate, manage, use or be impacted by new process

  • Language and culture-global data-entry language for reporting, date/time formats for each locale, and terminology use across the organization

    A harmonization approach can provide companies the mechanism to create a global standardization and enforcement of its QMS while maintaining variants for local considerations. Harmonization avoids a one-size-fits-all approach. It makes the trade-off between too many and too few process standards and avoids inconsistencies between standards.

    Getting ready for a quality management system harmonization has to start from senior management buy-in and governance. Process standardization and harmonization need to be explicitly stated as objectives with clear decision rules for the standardization and harmonization. Criteria should be identified for selecting the best standard, based on process performance and cost, and when process variants should not be standardized, determining exactly how common business process can be. Efforts need to be well organized, with well-defined plans and roles and responsibilities for the team leading the project.

    Buy-in from the top is essential, as corporate governance and executive leadership make or break opportunities to execute dramatic cultural change.

    Achieving consensus of harmonization requirements means involving the right individuals in the planning stages to get the right input. Creating teams for oversight, implementation, execution and trial/testing should be a combination of local process owners, management, end-user representatives and IT. Teams are often the best approach for a global QMS harmonization project but somebody needs to make the final decision. Assign the lead decision-maker if consensus is not achieved.

    Set up a communication plan for knowledge and new idea sharing. People will be more willing to participate if they know they are being heard.

    Start small. Select one or two key quality processes to map and harmonize first. Develop models that offer space for local adaption. Explaining the benefit of adoption and the reason for change will help end-users recognize how new quality process/requirements may be required to support and align to the future state of the business process. Users of successful pilot sites will help the rest of the end-user community adoption.

    Get sign-offs. Make sure everybody understands the key requirements and aligns with final business processes. Without consensus on the process and key requirements, more than likely a second major project will be needed to correct deficiencies in the first release.

    Be careful of redesigning the quality processes for harmonization with the wrong people. Complexity of day-to-day activities must be considered when looking at harmonizing and modifying the quality processes.

    Involve experienced line-level personnel that support a specific function. Rather than involving senior managers, who may be far removed from current operating conditions, have them serve as a sounding board to line personnel that are empowered to affect change.

    Don’t make the mistake of mixing process change and organizational changes. Organizations are more successful when they allow redesigned processes to be the primary driver of organizational change. The organizational change can then be conducted to support and align with process change.

    Finally, prepare the employees for changes by investing in employee training and developing a train-the-trainer program. This expands knowledge, reduces resistance, and produces skill and capacity for long-term improvements. Identify measurable goals and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) focusing on eliminating waste and showing the impact within and beyond the boundaries of the enterprise. Dig into the root problems-both people and process-and look to re-engineer the business before turning to technology to enhance the value, and you’ll end up with successful implementations and better overall results.

    Remember, a global QMS harmonization implementation is never easy. It stretches a company and its employees professionally, personally, and at all levels.

  • Adopting Lean Principles

    The adoption of lean principles is beginning to transform an increasing number of companies, by fostering continuous process and technological innovation, the building of new organizational relationships, the creation of new cooperative arrangements, and the establishment of new roles and responsibilities. Lean quality needs to be deeply embedded for lean manufacturing to live up to its promises of lower cost, more efficient processes, higher profits and increased customer satisfaction. A lean quality system is a system that is intolerant to waste in all its forms by creating a culture that expects daily improvement.

    Key lean principles are: perfect first-time quality; waste minimization by removing all activities that do not add value; continuous improvement; flexibility; and long-term relationships.

    Seek and destroy the fat. Exercise efficiencies. And empower oneself with new lean fundamentals. For lean to work, it is important not to view quality as an isolated system. Instead, the quality system must be an integral part of the overall lean process. Quality itself can be made lean but also drives lean improvement. By identifying and eliminating non-value-added steps, thereby eliminating waste throughout the production cycle, companies can convert their quality system from cost-absorbing to value-added.

    Sure, lean can mean less of many things-less tasks, less cycle time, fewer organizational layers and fewer resources. But lean can also mean more-more employee empowerment, more flexibility and capability, more productivity, more customer satisfaction and more long-term competitive success.

    Lean principles for quality incorporated in the workplace today can spell business survival for the future. Lean cannot be achieved overnight. The path to a lean quality system is incremental, evolutionary and continuous. It requires bottom-up dedication and top-down support, but offers significant return on investment.

    Automation for Optimization

    So how can automation help companies achieve a more proactive and optimized vision of a quality system? There are several ways, including enabling companies to identify and measure the metrics that are most critical to the quality system, allowing them to merge and analyze data across different departments, making it easier for users to feed back quality data into design and manufacturing more quickly.

    An automated quality system helps minimize reliance on memory and on the expert. With the shifting tides in the economy, and downsizing or re-allocating resources, an automated QMS is no longer people-dependent. Data is real-time and is easily reproducible with reports that look alike. Reports can be generated when needed, helping to share the knowledge faster without relying on IT. Trends can easily be evaluated. With such information, accountability across multiple locations is easily attained.

    Cycle time can be reduced. Automated workflow, called rules engine, eliminates lengthy manual steps. The system can easily handle multi-tasks/parallel tasks while eliminating risky copies. It helps companies create the easy standardization and enforcement handed down from business policies-no perception or interpretation. It also helps cross difficult departmental boundaries-no guessing games on who owns what-or when or who is today’s backup.

    Through automation, the quality system can become a vehicle for easier collaboration, eliminating constant and lengthy meetings. The system notifies end users quickly when they are next in the step or when things are due. Escalations no longer become nagging phone calls as the system can immediately escalate to the manager for overdue tasks vs. the manager constantly asking questions about the company’s current state.

    However, adapting a QMS technology to existing processes can only lead to broken process happening sooner. Most work processes are created over time to support the existing paper-centric environment. Attempting to modify software, whether packaged or custom-built, to support existing work processes will lock in all the inefficiencies in the current environment.

    Don’t rely solely on IT to conduct testing. IT needs to partner closely with operations stakeholders to conduct the testing which can also serve as a train-the-trainer opportunity. Make sure the appropriate amount of time is provided for not only the software training, but the new process training as well. Don’t burden personnel with having to teach themselves. Self-instruction on new processes rarely produces adequate results.

    By optimizing your quality management system (QMS), companies can achieve tangible ROIs such as:

  • efficient use of resources

  • rapid cycles

  • higher quality at lower cost

  • greater flexibility

  • sustainable processes

    Finally, understand what controls can be put in place to sustain the gain. Optimization, lean, continuous improvement programs are not just one-time projects, but a continuous cycle for improving your quality management system.

    Remember, even a small change in efficiency could save money. Q

  • Tech Tips

  • A clear picture needs to be drawn of how the business creates products across the product value chain.

  • Harmonization does not necessarily mean identical but alignment and compatibility of business processes and data.

  • A lean quality system is a system that is intolerant to waste in all its forms by creating a culture that expects daily improvement.

  • An automated quality system helps minimize reliance on memory and on experts.