Quality Management System Implemented, Yet Stuck in Average?
Most of the companies I have seen throughout my career grew their quality management systems organically. An organic inception and growth of a quality system typically happen when a company starts to map the ISO structures to their internal processes. Since the ISO quality system standards have been developed around operating and improving business processes the mapping to your existing processes is typically not challenging. The specific implementation of your quality system at the end will still vary depending on a more or less conservative approach.
After a quality system is implemented, operations within the company start to see benefits of having documented procedures, better clarity in responsibilities, and better record keeping. The quality system has done its first job in helping to move the company forward.
As we take a step back and look at the improvement achieved and compare it to good or even great companies in the industry, we realize that there is still much ground to cover. So the question arises, “Why did the implementation of a quality system not make us a great company?” Some companies might have discovered it or stumbled on it as they were looking for opportunities on how to improve their operations. What are those things in a quality system which keep you stuck in the status quo and not let you rise to a new level of maturity?
Through the Eyes of an Engineer – The Engineering Approach
As with many of these bigger questions, the answers most often do not come from within, but rather from looking at analogous problems. For a moment let’s focus on the ‘system’ in “quality system”. Now when we ask the question how to improve ‘systems’ the answer might come easier. Many of us would most likely take an engineering approach to fix or improve a system especially when it comes to technical systems like machinery or production automation.
What is so special about engineering that it can create staggering improvements and elevate systems to new dimensions? According to the literature, engineering is defined as the application of mathematics and scientific, economic, social and practical knowledge in order to invent, innovate, design, build, maintain, research and improve structures, machines, tools, systems, components, materials, processes, solutions and organizations.
After looking at this definition, I guess many will ask ‘Why didn’t we look at the engineered quality system earlier’? My thought is that the ‘Quality’ in ‘Quality Systems’ kept our focus and we overlooked the “system” side.
How should we get to work now and use our new discovery? As every good engineer would tell you, start with the specification and start asking ‘What do you expect from your quality system?’ and ‘What should it deliver?’