Most people would agree that quality is essential to have but difficult to execute. Among the many tools available, a quality management system (QMS) can provide a roadmap toward better quality. Without it, a company lacks direction. “The QMS is fundamentally how an organization does operate,” Colin Gray, president, Cavendish Scott Inc., said in an ASQ TV interview. “It’s a system for managing quality… It is the way our organization operates. And if you accept that, then it’s very easy to see the QMS really is the basic foundation for being successful as an organization.”

He went on to say, “It’s almost impossible to develop a quality system without thinking of where we as an organization want to be strategically.”

To get where you want to be, quality management principles can guide the way.

What are the quality management principles? Like quality itself, they may seem difficult to define. While there may be some disagreement on what these fundamentals are, ISO seems like a safe place to start.

The ISO 9000:2015 and ISO 9001:2015 standards are based on seven quality management principles. According to ISO, the seven quality management principles are, in no particular order:

  1. Customer focus
  2. Leadership
  3. Engagement of people
  4. Process approach
  5. Improvement
  6. Evidence-based decision making
  7. Relationship management

Let’s take a closer look at these quality management principles and how you can adopt them to improve your organization.

1. Customer Focus

This almost goes without saying. An organization that doesn’t focus on customers won’t be around for long. Although a customer focus is critical, many times this can be lost in the priorities of a quality system and the various processes involved.

The focus should include current—and future—customers. Besides continuously meeting or exceeding customer expectations, companies should measure customer satisfaction. Conversely, failing to meet customer expectations should also be tracked. Every function and department should be involved.

2. Leadership

As with any quality idea, support must start at the top. Without good leadership, an organization will suffer. Leaders should set a vision and goals for the company.

Think back to an inspiring leader you’ve met. Perhaps this was at work or even at a quality event. For those who were at the 2014 ASQ conference, Mike Abrashoff, former commander of the USS Benfold, may come to mind. At the event, he described the challenges of taking over an underperforming war ship. Morale was low and turnover was high. By uniting his crew with their common purpose along with praise and appreciation, he was able to transform the ship. This theme continues in the next principle.

3. Engagement of People

An engaged workforce is one that you want to have. This means the abilities of the staff are used and valued. It also enables continuous improvement, learning, and discussion of any issues. With an engaged workforce, staff are held accountable for their actions. Rather being seen as a passive place to clock in every morning, the job requires everyone in the organization to be active and engaged in their work.

4. Process Approach

As with so many things in quality, a process approach outlines the steps for success.

This means activities are managed as processes, measured, and connections between activities are identified. Opportunities for improvement are tracked. Quality doesn’t just happen. It requires processes behind the scenes to ensure the success of the organization.

5. Improvement

A strong quality system requires change. Without improvement, companies will eventually be outshined by the competition. Aiming to maintain the status quo does not inspire anyone.

This means the company’s performance and capabilities should be developed on an ongoing basis. These improvement activities should align with goals, and staff should be encouraged and empowered to make improvements. When improvements are made, these should be measured. And finally, celebrated! When things go well, it’s important to acknowledge it. Quality isn’t all stressful audits and data analysis. Sometimes it’s formal recognition and praise.

6. Evidence-based decision making

As you may have guessed, gut feelings are not the way forward. Rather, data is king. Of course, this should be no surprise to the quality professional. Organizations should make sure data is accessible, accurate, and reliable. It should be analyzed and decisions made based on it. Still, data analysis should be balanced with practical experience. The numbers tell the story, but it is important not to discount experience as well.

7. Relationship management

Finally, the people are the important part of any organization, and the relationships between suppliers and other partners are critical. Suppliers should be selected carefully based on the ability to create value as well as manage costs. Partners should be aware of plans and information that would help them in their work. A spirit of collaboration should be the goal. Coordinating improvement activities can help both parties. Recognizing supplier successes will also go a long way to maintaining a strong relationship.

Juggling ISO requirements may seem difficult, but these principles can light the way toward better quality. Maintaining a quality management system and improving your organization can be done. It takes work and consideration of a range of factors, but these seven principles are a good start.

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