Given the broad scope of applicability quality management has adopted in the past two decades, it is understandable that some level of abstraction clouds its purpose.
Before ISO 9001 — indeed, before its 1971 precursor, BS 9000, a set of standards published by the British Standards Institution (BSI) to guide quality management in the electronics industry — and even before the popularity of statistician and quality management pioneer Edward Deming, the need for robust quality management was quite concrete, especially in a military context.
During World War II, the inadvertent detonation of munitions in a weapons factory as the result of sloppy handling or process oversight carried particularly disastrous results: the loss of life, raw materials, time, money, manpower and military advantage. It was this very context that spurred the consistent documentation of specific control processes and procedures; the methodical execution of activities that conformed to documented standards; and the ongoing inspection and auditing of processes and procedures to ensure higher quality, better safety and organizational advantage.
The vast popularity of Deming’s ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ methodology and quality control philosophy in post-war Japan essentially solidified the role of quality management across manufacturing sectors in Japan and, eventually, across the U.S.
Nearly seven decades later, quality management has extended its reach significantly and, far from the assembly lines of munitions factories and discrete manufacturers, is now applied to the more nebulous realms of sales, marketing, client care, and service industries of all breeds. Now, rather than documenting how a bolt is fastened or a flow metre is calibrated to ensure consistency in machine operation, a service organization must document how a call is initiated to ensure customer satisfaction and retention, for example. Further, the need to expand the scope of a quality program beyond an organization’s immediate operations and across its entire supply chain and vendor base has become increasingly important. The need for quality management, in other words, is everywhere.
Though industries and applications have changed, the benefits are plain: a robust, electronic QMS means improved product and service quality, organizational advantage, and, most importantly, greater profits.