Viewpoint: Improving quality management in manufacturing

LNS Research’s Greg Goodwin outlines three questions manufacturers should consider when shaping their quality management culture

By Guest on 09 December 2013
Viewpoint: Improving quality management in manufacturing

Many companies that have pain points around quality today are exploring different areas for improvement. Some are investing in enterprise quality management software (EQMS) solutions or rethinking the way the cost of quality is measured. These are both initiatives that can have a positive impact on quality and are worth the time and capital investment.

But many companies’ quality woes originate on a deeper operational level, beginning with the way quality is perceived by employees and the culture that surrounds quality.

Quality viewed ‘as a department, not a responsibility’

Through research and discussions with quality executives, LNS Research has found that many companies experience problems with quality culture and commitment. Since our Quality Management Survey launched last year, we’ve asked more than 750 executives to date what their most pressing quality management challenges were. One of the most popular answers, picked by nearly half of respondents, was that quality is considered a ‘department, not a responsibility’.

Without a quality management culture that aligns corporate and local quality goals, the decisions, strategies, and technologies to improve the quality of products and processes tend to be diffused across business units and are made without consideration of the impact to the overall enterprise.

In attaining a competitive advantage and optimising performance, it’s essential that companies invest in creating a harmonised culture that encourages all employees to take an active role in improving quality. This typically starts with executive leadership. The questions below will examine three overarching questions that will help you understand how to best develop your quality culture across the enterprise. Because achieving a model of operational excellence – optimising the company’s key resources of people, processes, and technology – requires the efforts of the entire organisation.

Three questions to ask about your quality organisation

1. Are you cultivating quality management leaders in your organisation?
In order to best manage quality and foster an environment of innovation and continuous improvement, it's important to provide a corporate framework while leaving room for some decisions that may be best left to local leaders.

An example of this might involve supplier quality management. The personal relationships and detailed product knowledge of the local leader may be more agile in handling supplier quality than a more rigid standardised corporate process that could struggle to find the detail needed to prescribe decision-making for every scenario.

But before these local leaders can be leveraged they must first be identified and given the power to make operational decisions. Some of the ways to develop quality leaders and incorporate this cultural element are through training and certification programs, cross-functional projects, and management incentive programmes.

2. What is the proper ratio of corporate versus local quality management?
There are several factors that determine the most effective approach to an organisation’s quality management strategy, including company size, number of sites, industry, supplier network, and others. While an entirely centralised quality management approach oversees and dictates virtually all technology and processes, it can lead to the ‘department, not a responsibility’ mindset discussed earlier, and can potentially stifle continuous improvement initiatives.

Conversely, a completely decentralised approach will foster innovation and may ease the ability to comply with regulations at the local level, but it makes coordination with global suppliers and customers much more difficult around quality issues and leads to IT redundancies. The most effective approach is usually a ‘hybrid’ between the two that focuses on standardising only the processes that are essential to meeting the organisation’s overall quality goals, allowing for continuous improvement and local control where they are deemed more effective.

3. What is the role of technology in building a quality culture?
In organising your quality culture, it's important to evaluate places where IT standardisation would be beneficial. On top of the superior data collection and analysis capabilities enabled, having integrated solutions is an important way of improving communication and collaboration around quality. Using portal- (and/or mobile-) based technology allows business units across the value chain immediate access to identical data, and provides a ‘single version of the truth’ across the enterprise.

Though this list is a high level overview and by no means exhaustive, its main purpose is to facilitate a shift in thinking and the approach that many companies have traditionally taken with quality culture. Rethinking the way quality is perceived is often the first (and sometimes most important) step in improving quality at en enterprise level.

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