Expanding quality management in small-to-medium-sized manufacturers

By Guest on 02 June 2014
Expanding quality management in small-to-medium-sized manufacturers

LNS Research’s Matthew Littlefield explains how enterprise quality management software enables manufacturers to improve quality earlier in the value chain

By definition, most problems are considered bad. But there are some problems like “Our business is growing, and we need to find a better solution for managing quality” that you can’t get too upset about. It’s common for small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) to experience this. Many consider it to be a growing pain. We consider it an opportunity!

The move from paper-based and manual processes to automated quality management workflows is a critical one for any growing company. Not only does it improve risk, costs, and the ability to meet compliance, it also improves quality, which is something that can either make or break an SMB trying gain a larger market share of move up market.

In this post, we’re going to dive into what SMBs need to know about quality management software. But before getting into that let’s talk about the foundations of a quality management system, because if you don’t have the building blocks in place to support your growth, then the technology won’t have as great of an impact.

The foundations of a strong quality management system

Balancing growth and quality can be a serious challenge for SMBs. We’ll get into how software plays into this, but first let’s look at what can be influenced or controlled beyond that, your people and leadership as well as your processes.

  • People and leadership: As your company becomes more complex and continues to grow, the ‘quality mindset’ of your employees needs to evolve accordingly. Take the time to develop a culture of continuous improvement that extends from executive leadership all the way down to personnel on the shop floor. This may require small investments in leadership training or quality programmes. The point is you want this mindset to naturally scale and even accelerate with your company’s growth. 
  • Business processes: there’s a reason so many companies have implemented ISO 9001 standards, and it’s not just because they’re required to do so in some industries. These standards – created based on industry best practices, regulatory requirements, and so on – help to ensure the delivery of high quality products and processes. They should be used as the basis for processes and workflows as you progress forward.

Making the move to quality management software

The drawbacks of homegrown solutions are often highlighted when we look at an SMB outpacing its internal quality management capabilities. Companies generally adopt and develop different solutions for quality management as needed, but there comes a time when that strategy’s no longer sustainable in supporting the aggressive growth rates for which you may be striving.

At this point, it’s time to start looking at more robust solutions. Specifically, it’s time to start evaluating enterprise quality management software (EQMS) vendors that serve the SMB space. EQMS solutions providers specialise in automating quality management processes and supporting workflows, essentially enabling you to start shifting resources toward more proactive activities that aim to improve quality earlier in the value chain.

As you move to more robust quality management software solutions and capabilities, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that investments should be made in order to better support your people and processes. Focusing on the two points in the previous section about people and processes, combined with next-generation quality software capabilities can transform an SMB's products and processes.

Key considerations for SMBs evaluating EQMS solutions

If you’re an SMB in the situation where you’re starting to outgrow your homegrown or legacy systems, here are some major characteristics to look for while evaluating EQMS vendors:

  • Packaged software solutions: EQMS solutions can be deployed modularly or in comprehensive suites. For SMBs, an optimal approach is often to invest in a suite that can support your needs for automating key quality processes, such as Non-conformance/Corrective and Preventive Action management, audit management, document management, employee training and supplier quality.
  • Software delivery models: because software can be complex and costly, it can be beneficial for SMBs to consider EQMS solutions that are delivered via the cloud with software-as-a-service (SaaS) pricing models. With variable licensing structures, this approach generally provides more flexibility and less risk, and IT maintenance and service are typically built into the contract. In most cases, you have everything needed to start automating quality in a matter of weeks. Flexible pricing also helps to foster broad-based adoption for both casual and more technical users.
  • Ease of use: This one is critical for SMBs. Look at EQMS solutions that meet the needs of both technical quality professionals as well as more casual users. Most of today’s SaaS offerings are made to (as closely as possible) mirror the usability of sites such as Amazon, where the user interface and experience are intuitive enough to understand at most levels with little training. This is also important for extending capabilities out to distributed facilities and upstream partners.
  • Training and support: Take into consideration not only the capabilities of the EQMS solution being delivered, but also the training and support thereafter. As we mentioned, these are often built into SaaS licensing fees, which can give piece of mind that you’ll be supported through the implementation and over the lifecycle of your agreement.
  • Alignment with your long-term vision: As always, it’s crucial you keep in mind not just the immediate benefits of your software implementation, but also the long-term benefits. The solution should do more than just support your immediate growth – it should continually enable it over time. Those companies that take a ‘band-aid’ approach to problems rarely experience a strong ROI on the investment.

If you’re interested in learning more about the EQMS landscape and which vendors best fit your SMB needs, download the LNS Research EQMS Solution Selection Guide, which covers 18 of the top vendors in the space.

Matthew Littlefied is president and principal analyst at LNS Research

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