Every company wants to be known for quality, whether it’s local or multinational or whether it offers products or services. After all, if you don’t want to make the best and be the best, why bother? Right?
There are many ways to tackle the thorny issue of quality management. You can study your own organization, you can study your competitors, and you can study the marketplace. You can work on your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. You can even develop and implement a system to help you ensure quality in everything you sell and do – a “quality management system“.
The concept of a quality management system is essentially good, of course. How most companies get started with quality management systems, though, is dead wrong. Instead of starting small and working outward (like they could’ve back when they started their businesses), they find themselves trying to take on too much at once.
HAVING A QUALITY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM FOR THE WRONG REASONS
Most of us find out too late that, due to forces beyond our control, we’re compelled to establish a quality management system. New or modified regulations often have an impact because of the line of business we’re in (for example, foods or pharmaceuticals).
Perhaps another business like ours has gained a competitive edge, adding value by implementing an effective quality management system. Maybe the business that’s outsourcing to us is putting pressure on us to comply with regulations or industry standards – or risk losing “preferred contractor” status (and a big chunk of our income).
In any case, we’re behind the eight ball. You could call it reactive quality – reacting to pressure to meet someone else’s requirements, not our own1. Active quality, on the other hand, is the type of quality we pursue from the outset. We do this naturally, because active quality is an extension of our personal belief system that quality and the customer come first.
THE RIGHT REASONS?
ISO 9001 and its definition of quality management are a natural extension of a “quality and customer first” philosophy. ISO 9001 tells us the minimum requirements of a certified quality management system (six required procedures, 21 required records, a quality manual, etc.) but we don’t need a certified QMS to put quality in everything we are and do, especially when we’re small.
It’s much easier to develop an “official” quality management system if “quality” has always been part of your vision and mission. Your vision and mission statements are a reflection of your commitment to be the best in the eyes of your customers. Your vision and mission comprise your company philosophy.
If you don’t convey that sense of commitment that starts with you and carries throughout your organization, you’re unlikely to ever have an effective quality management system. You might have what passes for a QMS in some circles but not in those circles where it counts the most.
The moral of the story, therefore, is: Plan from the very beginning to develop and implement policies and procedures that help ensure quality and improvement, make the commitment to continual improvement, and proceed at a steady, economical pace. Start small, keep thinking small, and grow organically.
In short, develop your quality management system while you’re small and on your own terms, not someone else’s. Like I told my son a number of years ago, “Get started on good eating and exercise when you’re young and make them lifelong habits. Trust me – you never want to hear the doctor say, ‘Drop 100 pounds or die.'”
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1It’s much easier to meet customer or regulatory requirements when your internal requirements meet or exceed theirs.
Stolk, John, “Five Phases of Business Development”, no date – http://www.evancarmichael.com/Small-Business-Consulting/966/Five-Phases-of-Business-Development.html.