You may have heard of quality management systems but are not sure how your activities fit in. Or you’ve heard of QFD, ISO 9000, Six Sigma, Lean…These cryptic names that you’re not sure what they are about. You may be doing activities under one of your company’s procedures and asking, “Why am I spending time on this?” Sometimes it’s good to reorient to the big picture. That’s what we’ll be doing in this episode: reorienting to the QMS.
Hello and welcome to Quality During Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products others love, for less. My name is Dianna. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen in and then join the conversation at qualityduringdesign.com.
As an employee, you’re probably exposed to and working within a quality management system, but we forget about its real purpose. Yes, there’s mandatory trainings and refresher presentations. But when it comes to doing the work and understanding why we’re doing it, well, it’s good to take a pause and consider the big picture. This is like how I was with courses. The teacher gives me a syllabus on the first day of class and by the time I’m halfway through the course and in the depths of a topic, I found myself needing to take a step back, refer back to the syllabus, and reorient myself to what it was I was trying to accomplish.
What is a QMS really about? If we reorganize the words into a simple explanation: it’s a system to organize and manage quality across the organization. Now, quality is defined by the organization. A food delivery service is going to have a different vision of quality than a dry cleaner. Even if two companies are in the same technology field, they may have different definitions of quality. Think about Walmart and Target. They are both in the same business space, but they focus on different types of quality. They do what matters to their ideal consumers’ eyes.
Generally, quality management systems are customer focused and in the spirit of continuous improvement. Here’s a good time to do a bit of a history lesson. Total Quality Management is a quality management system. It’s based on the teachings of the godfathers of quality: Deming, Juran, Crosby, Ishikawa…they paved the way for industries to understand that quality was a management issue, that it just wasn’t something done at the back end of a production process. They also focused on the customer and continuous improvement. It’s a proven strategy for success and a foundation for many of today’s quality management systems.
Quality management systems also systematize business operations and the reasons they do this is to align activities across the organization. This allows businesses’ work to be done in an efficient way, which saves on internal costs, and it ensures the quality products or services that they need. A business has strategic and tactical planning (I mean, it has to!) and a good quality management system provides a process for our work that aligns what we do with the company’s overall goals and objectives. So, in other words, if we follow the quality management system, then we’re doing the work the business needs us to do.
Sometimes our organization just has to have a quality management system in order to even sell products. But that’s because it’s generally considered a minimum best practice: for businesses to prioritize the needs of our customers and to continuously improve our products and services. We don’t want to deliver defective products, governments don’t want to import bad products, and (if we’re making subcomponents that go into a larger system) our business partners don’t want subpar products, either.
Requirements of a quality management system are sometimes based on the industry we work in or where we sell our products. If selling a particular type of product in a certain location, we need to comply with the laws in that location. These laws can take the form of statutory or regulatory requirements. Statutory refers to laws passed by government, like the California prop. 65 which requires labeling of toxic chemicals. Regulatory requirements are like laws through proxy; they come from a regulating body that’s appointed by a government. Requirements for quality management system may also be in the form of a contract between private parties. For example, who we make products for requires us to have a quality management system in order to do business with them. That may also require their auditors to come and visit our site to make sure we’re using our quality management system.
That all seems straightforward, but then again, quality management systems are steeped in business and quality philosophy, concepts, and methods. Let’s talk through a high-level list of common, more modern quality management system philosophes. See if you can identify which one or which combinations your company might be using.
Total Quality Management is the quality management system I mentioned earlier. It’s a foundation of the other philosophes we’ll talk about today. Total Quality Management systems include three basic elements: a management philosophy, an improvement process or model, and a set of tools to use. If you’ve heard of tools like the seven quality tools (or the seven old tools and seven new tools), this is related to the Total Quality Management system.
ISO 9000 is a series of standards for quality management systems. It is authored by the International Organization for Standardization, which is an independent, non-governmental organization. ISO 9000 is focused on quality of the product and the processes of the business. It requires standardization of procedures, training documentation, and then auditing. Being certified in ISO 9000 assures that our company is doing at least the minimum acceptable practices. A company can choose to get an ISO certification. They are audited for compliance to ISO standards, but not through ISO…through a separate certification body that’s accredited to perform the audits against the standard.
Another quality management system philosophy is QFD or Quality Function Deployment. It focuses on customer satisfaction and it’s a heavy promoter of cross functional teams. The House of Quality and the Kano Model are both tools associated with this type of quality management system. The House of Quality is a giant diagram that looks like a house. It organizes design inputs from customer needs through technical specifications. A Kano Model is a plot of customer satisfaction where you classify customer requirements against how much your customer will like it. It looks like a scatter plot with an hourglass shape. These tools and this model helps you hone in on the features of your product that will truly delight your customer.
For this next one I may be introducing you to something new. It might be one you’ve never heard of: The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. And, I bet you didn’t think quality people were competitive, did you? The focus on this award is management systems for performance excellence. It rewards leaders and businesses that implement them. The intent is to promote continuous improvement. Winners get an award, but they also must share the information on how they reached success. The criteria is constantly evolving to represent the best ideas on management systems and practices. This award is the reason we all know about Motorola’s Six Sigma methodology. They were one of the first to win the award, which is how Six Sigma Quality became public knowledge. Businesses need to apply for the Malcolm Baldrige Award and the application process itself is considered valuable; you have to do a lot of self-scrutiny in order to just fill out the application. But the reviewers of the application also give a lot of detailed feedback, which is also considered valuable, and the feedback is about what they’re doing well and what could be improved. The Malcolm Baldridge Award was established by an act of Congress in the late 1980s. The idea came from the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers who in 1950 created an annual Deming Prize. Today, Japan has a Japan Quality Award that similar to the Malcolm Baldridge Award.
And we’ve already mentioned the elephant in the room which is Six Sigma. What started as a statistical definition of process variation turned into a whole business philosophy. The focus of Six Sigma is quality: eliminate defects through reduced variation. Its main tool de force is the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve and control). A lot of companies like Six Sigma because it’s prescriptive; it’s pretty specific on how a company should set up and lead efforts. It focuses on data and statistical analysis and design of experiments. Its prescriptive nature is why there are nationwide teams of green, yellow and black belt Six Sigma practitioners.
And whenever I think of Six Sigma, I think of Lean Manufacturing. The focus of lean is to eliminate waste, increase process speed and efficiency. I think of it like a diet for producers. The idea is that excess product that companies kept in their warehouses and stockrooms prevented them from really needing to deal with the problems of waste within their systems. So, if you’re lean and don’t have access to excess, then we’re going to be focused on making sure we don’t waste anything. But it goes beyond that. It gets into design for manufacturing or design for assembly; those are both lean concepts. Theory of constraints fits into Lean Manufacturing. The tools associated with Lean are value stream mapping, value added analysis, and 5S. 5S is a quality tool. The basic idea is that waste hides in dirt and clutter. Like an empty dirty plate in a teenager’s room will be found if the room is kept tidy but lost for weeks if their room’s a mess. The same principles can be applied to work areas.
Alright, those are all of the quality management system philosophes I’m going to talk about today. We covered a lot of the big ones. Companies can combine these philosophes to fit what they need. If a company lacks discipline, then maybe the ISO 9000 standard is a good baseline to start. I think we’ve all heard of Lean Six Sigma, which is a combination of those two philosophies.
If we think of a business’s operation like a machine, if it wasn’t running smoothly, we wouldn’t just pick up a hammer and start hitting the machine to make it work better. We need to evaluate what’s needed to be done to make it run more smoothly. It’s like that with building a quality management system for business. Management needs to define what quality means to the business and build a quality management system. That’s going to help the business create products that others love, but for less.
So, what can we do with what we’ve been talking about today? Well, remember that a good quality management system provides a process for our work that aligns what we do with the company’s overall goals and objectives and its definition of quality. If we understand the underlying philosophy behind the quality management system we’re working within, then we’re better equipped to do our job with quality in mind, and we could better watch for ways we can contribute in a meaningful way to continuous improvement.
You can take this further yourself. What is your company’s definition of quality and what philosophy does your company’s quality management system adopt? Please visit this podcast blog and others at qualityduringdesign.com. Subscribe to the weekly newsletter to keep in touch. If you like this podcast or have a suggestion for an upcoming episode, let me know. You can find me at qualityduringdesign.com, on LinkedIn, or you can leave me a voicemail at 484-341-0238 This has been a production of Deeney Enterprises. Thanks for listening!