Last week we looked at the basic elements of a Quality Management System, and the five questions customers ask themselves when weighing up the quality of your product or service.
This week we look at how we can use these five questions - relating to specification, conformance, reliability, delivery and cost - to judge what will be emphasised.
So, as an example, when you eat at a Japanese restaurant you may be more concerned with specifications (what can I expect when I eat there?), whereas when you eat at your local Italian restaurant you may be more concerned with conformance (is it what I expected?).
If you are eating at a Pizza Hut you may be more concerned with reliability (is it the same as last time?). However, in reality expectations are likely to comprise a mixture of these elements, in different combinations in each case. Customers are likely to have different expectations, even of the same product or service, and this may compound your difficulties. Also, customers may perceive the same product or service quite differently.
Returning to the restaurant example, some customers may see a meal as a means of enjoyment with family and friends, while others may be using it as a business opportunity to entertain their customers.
In short, the quality of a product or service is whatever customers perceive it to be: this makes it essential that you understand quality from your customers’ point of view. In some situations, customers may not be able to judge the technical aspects of a product or service specification.
For example, you may be unable to judge the quality of the medical aspect of an examination and diagnosis you receive at a visit to your dentist. You may therefore judge the experience by the dentist’s manner, the receptionist’s attitude, or even whether you had to wait longer than you expected.
Shortfalls in quality are likely to arise when there is a gap between what customers expect and what they consider they are getting. When such gaps exist it is almost bound to lead to customers’ dissatisfaction.
You need a plan
This is why it’s essential that you look at a plan for managing this. An organisation may use several different types of plan: business plans that address how it will anticipate, respond to and satisfy the needs of its customers; marketing plans that consider specific products or groups of products; production plans; IT plans; human resource plans.
Your organisation may have all, some, or even none of these plans. You may feel that you know what your organisation is trying to achieve, but that this is not written down anywhere. Whatever your situation, it is useful to understand the planning process in its own right.
For example, you may set your own preliminary objectives which could be precursors to the rest of your planning activities. You need to be clear about these two areas before you carry out any further activities, and you will need to keep the business objectives and environment in mind while you develop your own plan.
However, you will probably need to revise them as you go through the process in the light of the context analysis (the review of your organisation and its environment) that you carry out and if you do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. The results of the context analysis will help you to develop your SWOT analysis and this will help in the revision of your own objectives.
The SMART acronym for setting objectives is useful here. All objectives you set should be:
There is a key point to this process. Imagine that you are a training company and you initially decide that you need to improve the quality of the materials given to your delegates. At the moment the teaching styles of the trainers are inconsistent, and you feel that the quality of what is offered is low and does not reflect the professionalism you wish your company to be known for. You therefore set as your preliminary objectives:
However, after conducting a context analysis and a SWOT analysis to find out exactly what is happening at the moment and what your customers want, it becomes clear that a major weakness is the quality of delivery of the materials, rather than the quality of the materials themselves.
You therefore decide to keep your two original objectives, but to add a third priority objective, which is to institute a training programme for all trainers.
The plan would be measured against the initial objectives that you set, and this might influence your next set of objectives. If you achieve the objectives then you may want to set even more challenging ones next time, or you may wish to alter your focus to concentrate on other areas of perceived weakness.
Like other planning frameworks, the one presented here could be more detailed and would need adjusting according to the size, sector and character of the business and problem you are addressing. However, its purpose is to stimulate your thinking about what you can do as a company to enhance customer satisfaction.
Next week: What you’ll be doing when implementing ISO 9001…
Ask yourself the following questions about your business:
If you answered yes to any of the above, then you should really look at putting a Quality Management System in place.
The purpose of a quality management system is to ensure every time a process is performed, the same information, methods, skills and controls are used and applied in a consistent manner. If there are process issues or opportunities, this is then fed into the quality management system to ensure continuous improvement.
The fact is that ISO 9001 ticks two major boxes when it comes to choosing a QMS - it’s simple yet effective.
It’s based on a plan-do-check-act methodology and provides a process-oriented approach to reviewing the structure, responsibilities, and procedures needed to achieve effective quality management in any organisation.
The standard requires that there is a quality management system in place with certain control mechanisms that guarantee quality of provision. These can be generally broken down into:
A big part of ISO 9001:2015 is about how to plan to continually improve your organisation, and one of the areas you’ll have to look at will be an assessment of the context of your organisation.
Among other things, a context assessment is really about ‘getting under the skin’ of looking at (bluntly) ‘why people buy’ - at least, buy from you. Buying a product or service can be seen as a problem-solving or desire-satisfying process, in which customers seek to match its attributes with their needs or wants. In this process, they look at the available products or services to see which is most likely to offer the benefits they seek.
There are five elements that customers take into account when considering quality. They can be thought of as five questions:
Specification: ‘What can I expect when I buy or use the product or service?’ The specification should enable potential customers to determine whether the product is likely to meet their needs.
Conformance: ‘Will it do what I expect?’ Any shortfall in conformance to the specification or customer requirement is bound to lead to dissatisfaction.
Reliability: ‘Will it continue to do what I expect?’ Clearly, customers will value a car that always starts first time.
Delivery: ‘When can I have it?’ It is important to distinguish between two aspects of delivery: availability and dependability. Availability is about when something will be ready for a customer. Dependability is concerned with the adherence to a delivery or attendance time once that is agreed.
Cost: ‘How much do I have to pay?’ A purchase is as an exchange, in which a customer obtains goods or services by offering something of value in return. Customers will be satisfied if the price they pay, whether in money or in some other form, equates to the value they place on the goods or service.
Next week we’ll explore how we look at these help people to judge what ‘quality’ means to them…
The Hubble Telescope, the iPhone 4, the Ford Pinto - what do all these have in common?
Well, these are all quite high-profile quality management failures. The space telescope Hubble featured the most precisely ground mirror in history which had been ground into the wrong shape, meaning its images were only slightly better than Earth based telescopes, and very distant and faint objects (the very reason for having an orbiting telescope) could not be seen at all.
With the iPhone 4 it quickly became clear that it was difficult to make a call - not the greatest feature for a phone. Independent tests revealed that touching the left side of the case at a certain spot interrupted the signal and dropped the call.
And while it would be easy to nominate the whole U.S. automobile industry in the 1970s for the prize of ‘worst quality’, the Ford Pinto is most well-known due to its design flaw making it a firetrap which Ford executives knew about but waited eight years to put right.
A Quality Management System (QMS) should be used to understand customer requirements, then manage internal processes (for example design, production, delivery, etc) so that they fulfill these requirements in an effective and efficient way, and continually makes improvements.
Now most of us are fortunate in that when important requirements are missed or processes run amuck, it doesn’t make International headlines. But not taking quality seriously will still mean that customers will still get upset and management and employees both might be unhappy.
This is why getting a QMS will always be a sound investment for any company. But what are the difficulties around implementing one?
Well, the first and probably most important question for you to answer is “what is your definition of quality and why does it matter to your customers?”
There is no shortage of advice on how to achieve quality. The only apparent problem is how to choose from among the innumerable models and methods on offer.
Also, quality is something that everyone must be in favour of, as no one ever argues that there should be less of it. So, by default, we must assume that there is both the will and the way for organisations to improve the quality of their work.
However, in reality many organisations seem to find managing quality difficult. If you have been involved in trying to implement quality initiatives you already know that it rarely works out that way. This can lead to cynicism about quality management and give it a bad name.
All claims for a universal panacea in management should be treated with extreme scepticism. If it were that easy, there would be no unsuccessful organisations.
Some of the main difficulties experienced by those implementing quality improvement programmes are:
The fact is that quality can be one of the most elusive elements of the business world. Company mission statements often refer to quality in one way or another e.g. ‘Delivering the right quality at the right price’.
Many authors provide definitions of quality from just about every standpoint in the business world. There is no doubt that quality is important in business, but what does quality mean and how can it be measured? In the trade or sale of goods, does quality mean new, perfect goods?
If it did there would be no room for the mass of retail outlets that sell factory seconds or rejects. There would be no market traders selling bags of broken biscuits. There would be no call for second-hand goods.
The trade in less-than-perfect goods or multiple owner (second-hand) goods is extremely lucrative and has made many a millionaire! Most of their customers would claim to be getting quality or they just wouldn’t buy. So are they getting quality or are they getting value for money?
In the provision of services the same rules apply as in the provision of goods. If not there would be no room for no-frills airlines or Air BnB.
So quality isn’t an independent stand-alone factor. Price and customer needs or demands have a serious impact on approaches to quality. When we consider trade across the whole of the UK, quality becomes more elusive, and when we consider the whole of the EU, and finally world trade, it can seem too complex to imagine.
It is this difficulty in defining quality that has taken the quality gurus away from the notion of a universal ‘gold’ standard of goods or services to a notion of customer demands. Customer demands are by no means uniform so there needs to be flexibility in any definition adopted.
Let’s be honest, there are plenty of times when organisations might want to get ISO 9001 certification to tender for a contract, or to get on a supply chain list.
Government, local authorities and larger organisations sometimes require certification before they will consider a tender from a supplier. Even if certification is not a mandatory requirement for a customer, it will give them an advantage over their competitors.
In far too many of these cases certification just becomes an end in itself, rather than a genuine desire to improve the way the organisation operates.
However, even in these cases, many companies are pleasantly surprised by the benefits that a Quality Management System does offer, even if that’s not the focus they originally started out with.
What are the true benefits of Quality Management System?
Quality management adopts the perspective that all parts of an organisation and all its employees can have an impact on quality. Although the errors of those in direct contact with its customers may be more instantly recognisable, the errors made by those who have only an indirect role also detract from quality.
For example, the poor design of a product may dissatisfy customers, or a clerical error may result in an angry customer if it leads to their being invoiced incorrectly. Quality management takes a truly systemic approach to organisations; it is based on the belief that quality will come about only if all employees and all activities of an organisation are involved:
To see quality through the eyes of customers and exceed their expectations, an organisation must first know what its customers want. Building a relationship with, and getting closer to, its customers is essential if it is to gain a thorough understanding of their expectations.
Quality management highlights the important role played by all those who deal directly with its customers, those providing services, sales and marketing staff, and so on. Such staff have an invaluable opportunity to obtain vital information about the perceptions that customers have about the organisation and its products and services, and can gauge any changes in customers’ expectations and any indications of their future requirements.
Everyone must commit to quality
But what about those who operate well away from their customers? Quality management addresses this with the concept of a chain - in this chain everyone in an organisation, no matter where they work in it, is considered a link, and the chain eventually leads to an external customer.
Put simply, if quality is maximised as a product or service moves along this chain, then ultimately the external customer will be satisfied. Changes in customers’ requirements can also be communicated backwards along the chain. These chains stretch back to suppliers who are themselves external to the organisation.
For this concept to work in practice, good communications throughout an organisation are essential. This leaves no place for the inter-departmental barriers and ‘turf wars’ that can characterise so much of organisational life and hamper effective communications within the organisation. Quality management simply cannot work within an atmosphere of ‘them and us’.
Quality should always be at the top of the management agenda and be an issue that requires leadership from the very top of an organisation. Senior managers’ lack of commitment is recognised as the most significant barrier to achieving the successful implementation of quality management. This is why senior managers need to develop a quality strategy for their organisation that will:
You must demonstrate your commitment to quality
Fine words are never likely to be enough, however. Managers need to demonstrate their commitment to quality management by their actions. As well as setting the framework for quality management by putting into place appropriate quality systems and procedures, supportive performance measurement systems and reward schemes, managers also need to demonstrate a personal commitment to quality management by, for example, fully participating in all quality improvement programmes.
There are three factors which are common to all approaches to Quality Management Systems:
The successful implementation of a Quality Management System requires a supportive organisational culture - a culture of quality. There is a strong sense of learning from mistakes and avoiding the apportionment of blame. In this culture, everyone takes responsibility for achieving quality improvements, but such an environment can only be built on mutual trust, with a management style that does not depend on blame or fear.
A core but often misunderstood clause of the main ISO standards is the area of ‘Leadership’. This is a term which means different things to different people, but what does it mean in terms of management systems?
Although there are a lot of different definitions of leadership, there is a common thread that runs through many of them: the notion that leadership involves influencing others to follow a particular direction or aim for a particular goal.
This really the thread that runs through ISO - leadership is about tackling the important or core issues that face the organisation, which will usually fall into one of three categories:
Therefore Top Management (as ISO standards label senior management within an organisation) must ensure that the requirements of the management system, including the policies and objectives, are consistent with the strategic context and direction of the organisation, and that the policies and objectives are established whilst ensuring that the human and financial resources needed for implementing the management system are available.
The standards insists that Top Management should take a ‘hands-on’ approach to the management system which will be audited during interviews and whilst recording compliance to other requirements e.g. determining organisational context, policies, objectives, management review minutes, provision of resources etc.
This process view of leadership is designed to look at how leadership tackles the ‘ends’ and ‘means’ core problems which requires some knowledge of the wider environment and an understanding of how it is likely to affect the organisation.
To exercise leadership in these areas, Top Management must be prepared to keep in touch with and understand these wider events. Being a successful leader depends not just on what a person does within a group, as is suggested by ‘style’ theories of leadership, but also on what that person does outside the group. Effective networking and being a good ambassador are important leadership skills; they help the leader to understand the threats and opportunities that may face an organisation and to mobilise resources and support.
It’s against this backdrop that management system auditors will want to determine the following issues amongst the organisation’s Top Management:
The principal is fairly simple: without solid management commitment, you will not have a successful management system. This is not a commitment in words, it is the continuous and active demonstration to everyone in the organisation that the need to meet customers’ expectations is vital.
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