Mehul Shah and I recently hosted an interactive session for quality leaders and Statistical Process Control (SPC) specialists to discuss some of the ongoing goals, challenges and solutions facing professionals in this field across a number of different industries. What we learned was very much in line with the results of our recent quality survey: quality professionals are still facing challenges when it comes to giving metrics meaning, identifying areas of improvement and turning manufacturing information into actionable data.
In this article we’ll discuss some of the key goals, challenges and solutions that resonated with attendees at the event and map that feedback to the trends we’re seeing.
Quality Management Goals and Challenges
Mehul and I began our interactive session by discussing some our findings on contemporary goals and challenges in quality management. The crowd of about 80 quality and supply chain professionals from across the U.S. and around the globe were eager to hear about new trends, but also to engage with their counterparts and talk about some of the obstacles they faced in their own quality programs.
In advance of the session we polled attendees to learn about what they view as some of their key challenges, and then we were able to compare audience responses to our research findings. What we learned is that the top goals and challenges attendees said they were facing are very much in line with the results of our recent survey on quality management. Here are some of the key takeaways:
Financial goals: We asked participants to share what they thought were their organization's top financial objectives. The answer was a resounding “grow revenue,” with about 67 percent of respondents indicating this was their top financial goal. This aligns well with the findings of our 2013 quality survey, where well over half of all respondents indicated it was also the top priority.
It is interesting to see how different this result is today compared to what it would have been five years ago. At the height of the global economic downturn, we would have seen organizations more focused on cutting costs. Now, we’re seeing a more aggressive character to the market, with a higher level of comfort with economic conditions and a focus on building revenue.
Operational objectives: When asked what their top operational objectives were, just under 70 percent of the audience stated improving manufacturing efficiency was the number-one goal. This was also the result of our quality survey, where most manufacturers said efficiency improvements ranked number one.
Quality focus: The LNS team asked participants what their top quality management priorities were. Here we had an interesting split. About a third ranked “reducing the total cost of quality” as number one, while another third said “reducing non-conformances in manufacturing” was their top quality objective. We saw a similar result in our quality survey, though batch manufacturers tended to place a higher importance on reducing non-conformances, with 28 percent ranking it number one, as opposed to process manufacturers, where only 14 percent called it a top priority.
Quality Challenges Resonate Across Industries
After discussing top-ranking goals, we had the opportunity to dive a little deeper into some of the key challenges organizations are facing these days. As with our quality survey, we found four key issues resonated with all attendees.
1. The Cultural Divide
As with our quality survey, we see there’s a serious cultural gap pervading manufacturing these days, and it lies in the fact “quality” is widely viewed as a department more than a companywide responsibility. Though proper quality management actually pervades all aspects of an organization, right across the value chain–from design, to manufacturing, to customer service and beyond–too often quality professionals think it just isn’t taken seriously enough.
Interestingly, this speaks towards overall quality management effectiveness, but also to that critically important aspect of an organization that can be elusive to define, and even harder to correct: corporate culture. Clearly, quality management professionals view themselves as in something of a box, apart from the rest of their companies, when in fact their work needs to pervade all aspects of corporate activity. So now that this is coming to light, we expect organizations should begin to tune in from the top down and start to look at change management programs that help integrate quality performance into all aspects of corporate activity, end to end.
2. Poor Measurement of Metrics
Between our discussion at the session and recent survey results, it is clear: manufacturers don’t feel they are getting the right data. We’ve talked about the ‘noise’ that’s created when too much data is collected, or when irrelevant data land in the wrong hands. Manufacturers are feeling increasing strain trying to sift through the flood of data they are collecting to find the most important metrics that can actually improve performance correct issues.
This aligns well with the trend we’re seeing with Big Data: with more and more information, with torrents of data, it’s becoming harder and harder to determine which metrics actually matter. This is a nascent challenge for manufacturing, and we expect it will continue to grow as we gain access to more and more performance data surrounding every link in the value chain.
3. Disparate Systems = Desperation for Data
Another resonant concern we heard at the conference is that organizations are struggling to handle a variety of disparate systems and data sources across their quality programs. As we know, SPC software is but one piece of the quality management pie, and the right software should play well with its counterparts across the quality software spectrum.
However, this seems to rarely actually occur, and businesses continue to grapple with the need to better integrate legacy systems with newly acquired software and emerging applications. However, as quality leaders become increasingly cognizant of these issues, we expect to see strategies that take these factors into account.
4. Supply the Supplier Data!
If we thought businesses are having a tough time getting their own systems to play well together, imagine the challenge of getting supplier systems on board. It is no secret that end-to-end visibility into quality management is becoming a greater concern for many industries–particularly life sciences and food and beverage, where such visibility is becoming more a key requirement of doing business than a ‘nice to have’–and this trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Yet getting timely, relevant, accurate supplier data is still a top-of-mind challenge for industries across the spectrum and streamlining the collection and availability of this data will be a key consideration in the months and years ahead.
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