Quality Management Process Design – Do You Need a Swiss Army Knife or a Scalpel?

Confusing or unclear processes easily jeopardize the organization's compliance to standards or other requirements. Detecting processes which have lost their focus on their main purpose is essential for a lean and comprehensive quality management system

As a new quality system is born it receives the DNA from the current company processes and the DNA of the quality system standard selected. As the quality system is used and deficiencies are found through audits or just day to day activities the need to improve the system arises. Fixing the system very often entails patching the areas which seem to be broken or not working well. Adding checklists, additional verifications or reviews often seem to be logical responses for making the system stronger. Over time the quality system processes become like a Swiss Army Knife; in addition to the blade (the main purpose of the process), they have all kinds of additional functions loaded. Empowered with a Swiss Army Knife, the process owner can be confident in their ability to handle any situation which might arise.

Since a production company needs many processes to manage everything from customer communication through design, procurement, manufacturing, and delivery, the number of multipurpose processes can quickly become overwhelming. This is an even bigger issue for companies which are in growth or naturally experience a high turnover in employees. As new employees join the organization, they struggle to find the right tool (process) to do the job since every process has many capabilities.

The scalpel, on the other hand, is built for one single purpose, it is built to get the job (‘cutting’) done correctly and fast. As a cutting need arises, it is very obvious to the user that the scalpel is the right tool for the job. Processes that are built for single purposes are easier to select, they typically are more effective in the application and do not have the clutter and waste.

Agility Through Precision

When defining a process it all starts with the purpose statement. The purpose should stay true with the name of the process. Any activities which are not part of the core purpose of the process should be ‘outsourced’ to other processes which can do the job better and faster. This approach creates tremendous agility and should be used by anyone planning to automate their quality system.

A very common example of a Swiss Army Knife process is the nonconforming material process. In addition to the identification, segregation, evaluation, and disposition of the nonconforming material, many companies include investigation, identification of root causes, corrections and corrective actions as well. The main purpose of the nonconforming material process is to manage nonconforming material from the point and time it is identified till it is removed or eliminated from the facility. By adding other activities to the nonconforming material process such as investigation, correction or corrective action, the execution of the process becomes more cumbersome and time-consuming. Unfortunately, this is not the worst side effect. The bigger problem is that most of the additional activities such as root cause analyses are done but they are not done correctly. As a consequence, the organization not only create more waste but significantly increases their compliance risk.

Conclusion: Remove redundancies from your quality system by designing more single-purpose processes to improve compliance, effectiveness, and efficiency