If you are a seasoned quality professional, you understand that quality can't be managed, but processes can. People are of vital importance to the identification, maintenance and improvement of business processes, and simple principles and methods of process control provide a solid foundation for continuous improvement, and can be readily implemented by any organization.

Most of us are familiar with Philip Crosby's definition of quality as "conformance to requirements." While this is a simple definition, it's powerful in that it enables all quality characteristics to be judged in absolute terms of both good and bad. This also permits the development and management of processes that result in the desired quality characteristics of a product or service being provided by an organization.

There is a perception vs. reality when it comes to quality, so an effective quality improvement strategy must comprehend the differences that exist between the two. Both of these must be recognized, understood and managed in order to move forward. When we think about processes, the foundation of lean manufacturing is discipline to a defined process, and business performance is a result of many of these processes operating both concurrently and sequentially. While it's common to consider processes independently, it's important to note that they are always interrelated with others.

Management must recognize quality to be its first priority, regardless of the industry. Management itself is a process, and you can only manage processes with facts supported by data gathered from your quality management software. Any opportunity you can to make this quality data management "visual", you should take advantage of it wherever possible-especially when applying the four fundamental elements of quality: 5S, problem solving, Poka Yoke, and continuous improvement.

So, where do you start the process of continuous improvement? Ask the question: do we treat our people well, or not? Take a look at your work environment; be sure you have a clear and consistent direction, listen and hear your employees, educate and train them, keep them informed, share goals and performance data and be sure to provide them with the time and resources necessary to do the job asked of them.

Next, create an improvement plan. You should adhere to the following rules when structuring your plan:

1) Don't receive bad product, data, or services;
2) Don't produce bad product, data, or services; and
3) Don't send bad product, data, or services.

To assure your commitment to quality, conduct weekly quality assurance management meetings to ask where the organization is on quality performance, and see the status of each action plan item. Be sure to include managers responsible for the quality function of the business. Gather your inputs (external, internal and supplier management performance metrics, along with the current action plans) and outputs (resource assignments, action to remove obstacles, escalation of unresolved issues, and published meeting minutes).

As I've noted before in talking quality to your CEO , the language of management is dollars. It is important, as quality professionals, for you to bridge the gap between quality and the financial metrics used to drive the business. Define a process to identify, capture, and report the cost of poor quality. Your inputs will be time and material, and outputs will be financial justification for proposed changes. (If you struggle with talking quality to your CEO, you may want to check out this whitepaper: How to Sell Quality to Management to help you get started.)

Understanding these simple but key concepts will help you to successfully manage your quality improvement initiatives. Some takeaway tips for you: listen to and support the people, assure quality data integrity, identify systematic problems, rationalize the feasibility of improvement targets, make your action plans very specific and follow up daily to assure optimum performance.”

Source: Ed Lawson – “Want Quality? Keep It Simple!” Presentation from 2012 World Quality Conference