What is Quality Management?

When people use the word “Quality,” it’s usually as a synonym for “good.” Many brands tout their products as “high quality” or “superior quality” in just this way without really defining what the characteristics of “Quality” are, and we’re more likely to see it in marketing material than in integral business process or policy documents. This is the first in a series of blogs that will explore the fundamental concepts of Quality and how you can apply them to your organization.

Quality is about much more than describing a product or service as “good.” Quality Management professionals see Quality as the following:

  1. Satisfying a set of explicitly or implicitly defined inherent characteristics.
  2. Providing products or service features that customers need. These features lead to customer satisfaction and exceeding customer expectations, which, in turn, lead to increased revenue for the producer. Ensuring Quality by adding features that customers want while ensuring consistency and reliability with every iteration has a cost, but the cost of not embracing Quality is much higher, including lost market share, missed opportunities, brand damage, and recalls due to design and manufacturing flaws.
  3. Designing features that are free from deficiencies and errors. Products or services that are deficient and don’t work as they should require rework or, if they make it to the marketplace, lead to costly recalls and customer dissatisfaction, all of which costs an organization money, time, and brand integrity. Defects found at later stages of product development are far more costly than if they had been found earlier.
  4. Ensuring ongoing continuous improvement (CI) to address the root causes of defects that are inherent in processes, tools, and designs and that have a significant impact. By addressing the root causes through CI rather than the symptoms, organizations can reduce the Cost of Quality, increase efficiency, sustain a Culture of Quality, minimize rework activities on the shop floor and in the back office, reduce scrap, and ultimately have fewer recall events. Revenue and overall market share then increase as a result of improved product quality, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and increased market share. According to the Center for Economic and Business Research, every $1 invested in Quality produces $16 in cost reduction and a $3 increase in profit.

Those who work in Quality often refer to the Quality Management System (QMS). The QMS is not a machine or an application, but is the underlying Quality process architecture on which the organization sits. The term “QMS” includes all the people, processes, stakeholders, and technologies that are involved in an organization’s Culture of Quality, as well as the key business objectives that make up its goals.

Quality is both a perspective and an approach to increasing customer satisfaction, reducing cycle time and costs, and eliminating errors and rework using a set of defined tools such as Root Cause Analysis, Pareto Analysis, etc. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines “Quality” as “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills a requirement,” and “requirement” as “a need or expectation that is stated, generally implied or obligatory.” Examples of requirements include:

  • Customer specifications such as reliability, availability, accuracy, and delivery dates.
  • Value for goods and services purchased such as ROI and productivity gains.
  • Various ISO standards relating to Quality including ISO 9001, IATF 16949, and ISO 13485.
  • Statutory requirements such as the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA code of federal regulations, Canadian Standards Association, Underwriters Laboratories, EU directives, and the Occupational Health & Safety Act.
  • Various industry requirements.

Quality is not a program or a discipline. It doesn’t end when you have achieved a particular goal. Quality needs to live in the organization as the Culture of Quality in which every person experiences and understands the need for dedication to its values. Quality is a continuous race to improvement with no finish line.

At a more general level, Quality is about doing the right thing for your customers, your employees, your stakeholders, your business, and the environment in which we all operate. From the level of the individual employee all the way up to the level of our planet, Quality is about maximizing productivity and delighting customers while protecting our people and our resources from the harm that results from shoddy processes and careless oversight. Quality is therefore an approach that should be the goal of every organization from business and manufacturing to healthcare, government, and not-for-profits.

What sort of benefits could Quality Management bring to your organization?

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