Category Archives: data

Compliance is a Moving Target

Last week we had a great talk with an esteemed consultant about compliance and how to go about it. He had quite a nice way of approaching it. It was during this call he dropped the phrase:

“Compliance is a moving target”

This made me think about being compliant and how it changes all the time. It actually is a moving target, and that’s what makes working in compliance such an exciting job.

Everything Changes

Within the environment of a business, changes happen all the time, new employees enter, employees leave, laws change, standards change, customers demand change, and so on. Every change has an impact on the compliance of a company and can definitely be seen as a moving target. It would be a utopian vision to think you as a company is 100% compliant—it is mostly based on best efforts and, sometimes, interpretations. Hence, stating that a company is compliant simply because it passed an audit doesn’t make lots of sense, although it is common to do this. There are always changes that have an influence on the level of compliance. When a law changes, the organization needs to adopt this change. When a new employee enters, they need to be trained how to work properly. 

The Fun Part

Because compliance is a moving target, it comes with so many challenges. This is for most people working in compliance what makes the job exciting. Changes are required, and support by the employees is a necessity. This balancing act between the hard requirements and the human touch is what makes working in compliance so great. Chasing that moving target and getting as close as possible to being 100% compliant is the goal and is something compliance managers don’t do on their own. Compliance is most definitely a team sport and something that is done with every single person in the company. This isn’t always easy because not everyone is as excited about compliance management as we are, but they all have the power to break the compliance chain, with ease.

Technology

Even as a compliance platform, we don’t believe that buying a compliance platform makes you fully compliant. Technology is there to support not lead. All the rules and regulations, laws and standards are man-made and, therefore, can be pretty fuzzy. Because of that, people need to interpret them in order to place it in the right context. Technology isn’t in the same league as humans when it comes to this. You need to be involved in the compliance processes as a human for quite some time. Which is great because it is a great job to do.

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Why a QHSE Platform will help your organization

We talk with dozens of companies on a daily basis that have some degree of QHSE management system. Some are sophisticated; others are plain simple to use. The biggest question for most companies is, of course, why should I invest in a Quality and Safety platform? These are some of the most important reasons.

Transparency

High on the list to invest and move your management system to a QHSE platform, is transparency. Transparency allows employees to see what the company is doing, how it is doing and how it improves. It also allows employees to see what went wrong and how the company learns from its mistakes. This shows clearly that it is ok to make a mistake. Of course, there are mistakes that you will always want to prevent, but things can always happen. Also, transparency on how the company operates creates higher engagement and allows people to help the company move forward.

Structure

A proper online QHSE platform will bring structure to the management system. Most management systems are a bunch of files somewhere on servers or in SharePoint, in the hope that employees know where to find the documents. This chaotic way of working makes employees feel lost and tune out of the management system. The end result is that they aren’t able to leverage the management system to their own benefit, as it holds a lot of implicit knowledge that has been accumulated over the years.

Providing a structured platform will take out a lot of frustration with the employees and allows them to leverage the management system. They can use all the implicit knowledge to do a better job.

Data-Driven Decision Making

When a platform is implemented and more and more data is gathered, the organization can really start to improve based on actual data. The lower barrier to engage with the management system will increase the amount of data gathered. This data can be put to work when deciding on the improvement activities in the organization. Finally, the limited resources can be put to work much more effectively.

In control

The platform will also help in the control of compliance. Most of the compliance processes are covered in the platform and triggers are set when the expiration of important actions is coming up. This will reduce the stress of checking all documents and allows for better preparation for audits by certifying bodies, customers and, of course, the government.

Communication

Lastly, there is a huge win in communication. Because every employee can find everything they need to know, they don’t need to ask other people for the information. This not only prevents others from doing their job, it also introduces lots of communication errors. By providing all the employee needs, it is much easier.

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Sharepoint is not a Management System

Sharepoint is a solution that is used quite a lot for a wide range of automation projects. Often pitched as the Swiss Army knife of software, it promises to do lots of back-office administration. However, it is most commonly known for its Document Management System. There are a wide range of Sharepoint consultants that build solutions within Sharepoint. This all sounds great, but there is a great fallacy in this way of working. Sharepoint is not an Integrated Management System, let alone a QMS or a QHSE solution. It needs to be developed, which comes with the same difficulties as developing software from scratch.

Mapping Processes

When a company tries to use Sharepoint to manage its IMS, it needs to build it within Sharepoint. All the logic, approval processes, questions, process flows, and everything else needs to be thought of. There are no best practices built-in, because it is simply a framework. Taking this approach means that the company needs to commit a significant amount of resources to develop the Management System. This commitment is without the development resources. If the company has Sharepoint developers in-house, this might reduce the costs of development, but it increases the opportunity costs. Of course there are templates available, but they never suit the company’s processes and certainly aren’t free.

Improvements

Quality and Safety Management is all about continuously improving the processes within the company. The Quality and Safety platform should, therefore, allow the people to make changes when improvements are required. Sharepoint is often too complex for ordinary people to make these improvements themselves. Either internal or external specialists need to be involved in making the improvements. Financial or time limitations will have a significant impact on the speed of implementing these improvements, which can lead to inefficient processes that are running for months on end. The problem in the processes has been identified, but it cannot be fixed, which is far from ideal. Proper QHSE platforms allow for rapid changes to be done by the QHSE or operational managers.

Maintenance

Maintaining the Management System is something most companies forget about. There will be no automated updates on the Sharepoint-based Management System. Every new feature, new field, or altered flow needs to be developed by either internal or external developers. Furthermore, these features need to be thought of by the company itself, which limits the options. Great platforms are continuously innovating their solutions based on feedback from companies facing the same difficulties. The result is that their customers can leverage the new features with simply a couple of clicks. No need for internal or external resources to develop new features.

Conclusion

In the end, Sharepoint can work as a QMS or Management System, but it was never designed to be one. This is painfully clear when you try to use it like this. In the beginning it all looks fine, but when changes are required, problems will start to occur. Make sure you pick the right solution for what you are trying to accomplish.

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Integrate Quality in Your Company Strategy

Quality is a key pillar in every organization. When a company delivers inferior Quality, it will be out of business quite soon. Hence, maintaining high-quality products and services is very important. However, getting Quality Management deeply embedded in the organization isn’t always easy. Everybody within the organization needs to understand his/her impact on the Quality and, more importantly, the perception of Quality of the customer. Quality should be embedded in every part of the business to truly deliver the best Quality possible.

Quality Consistency

Especially when the organization gets larger and more people are involved in the products and services, maintaining consistent Quality levels can become hard. This is when having a clear vision of what Quality means to the company becomes essential. Creating this vision should not be simply handed over to the Quality Manager—this is a job for Top Management. A properly functioning Quality Management System is critical in this. Having more people touching the product and/or service means that there is more room for inconsistencies. We are all human, so we will not deliver constant Quality, which is fine. As an organization, it is important to keep the minimum Quality level steady, regardless of who is doing the job. This is guaranteed by creating proper Quality checks.

Top Management 

The involvement of Top Management in the strategy is one of the most critical aspects. Top Management has to show their dedication and focus on Quality within the organization. Getting this involvement isn’t always easy, but with some techniques, this is doable. Some great tips are:

  • Using data to show Top Management how Quality performs
  • Show how customers value the Top Quality
  • Show the costs of not having Quality 

These are just a few points to use, but there is much more. The type of indicators come from anywhere in the company: logistics, production, sales or HR. This clearly shows that Quality is embedded in every part of the company. The exact triggers are, of course, also dependent on the personality of the people in Top Management. Make sure you communicate with them in a way that is in line with their personality.

Employee Involvement

Yes, Top Management involvement is critical, but without involvement from the employees, Quality Management isn’t working either. The employees are the people that do the job and see when things are going right or wrong. They are crucial in having a Quality Culture. They need to look at everything they do through Quality glasses, which will really increase the overall Quality. Never ever forget to make them part of the Quality strategy and translate the Quality to clear things they need to do.

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How to introduce a QHSE management platform

Selecting the best QHSE platform is relatively easy; getting it adopted is the challenge. This is probably one of the most heard phrases when it comes to automating Management Systems. The buying process can be quite a challenge when it comes to making sure all the departments agree on the solution and finding the budget. However, the adoption and implementation is a different game and, most likely, a tough nut to crack. This is why we like to share some of our experiences on how to make it as smooth as possible.

The Consulting

During implementation, external help from consultants and product specialists is key. They know all the tricks in the book and how to set up the platform in such a way that it really fits the organization. They also have seen it running at other companies in the same industry and therefore have a good idea about best practices. Second, the consultant brings in a fresh pair of eyes. They allow the company to really look at all the documentation and check its relevance in the new setup. Great examples are things like procedures for managing NCRs or Document Control, activities that with a good QHSE platform will be automated.

Internal Training

Usually, the consultants will help with internal training. They train key users and administrators for the QHSE platform. However, most of the time, the internal training is mainly done by these key users who are the group expert on a department, plant or project team. Keep in mind that the internal training is as important as the training by the key users. Employees need to be trained on how to use the platform as effectively as possible to allow Quality & Safety to thrive in the company. Quality & Safety is part of everybody’s role in the organization, so people should know where to look when it comes to this.

Resistance

There will always be resistance by people; they are not really into change. Every organization has that one person that prefers not to change because everything seems fine as is. In the new way of working, some people might need to do a little bit more to bring the entire company to the next level. Convincing these people that they need to do a little bit more isn’t very easy. Regardless of the reason, there will be resistance, which will be hard to break.

The number one rule is making people part of the process while introducing the QHSE platform. Ask employees what they expect and what they would like to see resolved. Make them part of the design of a checklist or NCR form. Of course, you need to do this within reasonable levels because you cannot debate endlessly about a particular question. When they are involved, they will have a feeling of ownership and it will motivate them to want to use it in the future.

Second, show them how much easier it is than before. Make it clear how much time they save searching for documents. Also explain that they cannot do anything wrong. This will take away the fear of messing up. Lastly, communicate how the company benefits from it. Most employees do care about the company operating as good as possible. Showing them how the company benefit will help break resistance.

Training Material

Make sure there is some form of accessible training materials. These can be guides, videos or other documents. This allows people to have help options whenever needed. This documentation is critical for a great adoption.

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The Art of Checklists

Over the last few years, we have helped a tremendous amount of companies move over to Qooling, either straight out of office-based Management Systems or migrating from other software solutions. During this transition, we always take a very critical look at the forms and checklists that are present within the organization. Implementing a new platform is always a great way to reflect on your current Management System. We have seen some weird, unnecessary, and even unknown checklists in our time.

The Unknown

These are probably the funniest. We always tend to find checklists and forms that are hardly used or nobody was aware of. They sometimes predate from 2010 and before, and are stored in some hard-to-find folder on the server. The Management System is a lively system that evolves and is managed by different people over time. Due to this character, people sometimes simply miss checklists and forms. The turnover of people can make it very hard to manage it all, especially when there is a great distributed system where everybody can contribute. Having a distributed management system is crucial for an effective one, but managing it can become quite difficult when there are lots of unknowns.

The Weird One

These are the forms and checklists that are so complex that only the person who created it can handle them. Yes, there are deeper concerns when this happens, such as process misalignment, but still. These highly complex forms can be extremely simplified most of the time or even be broken into a couple of different forms for clarity. It is always important to take a greater look at the processes that this form/checklist is part of, to make sure they are aligned again.

Some other examples are the checklists, which have questions that nobody understands. Questions with double negatives, wording that nobody understands, or unclear sentences. These might look like small things but they can make it very hard for employees to understand the checklists, let alone fill it in correctly.

The Unnecessary

This is probably the biggest group of all. These checklists were created with the best intentions in mind, but they aren’t very effective. When we look deeper, we have to conclude that these checklists aren’t measuring anything. Great examples are checklists where every item needs to be checked “OK”. Looks great on paper doesn’t it? However, you will only receive checklists that have only “OK” as answer. What if something wasn’t ok? Do you really get this information? Yes, they might have fixed it right away but that has never been logged. Checklists that require only OK answers to be accepted are meaningless and create a fake perception of Quality. There are lots of these types of checks in the process because for most companies everything needs to be OK to go to the next step. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this but make sure you create such checks in a sensible way and you allow room for error. Everybody makes mistakes—that’s life—just don’t hide it and give people room to express these mistakes.

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What Is HSE 4.0?

In line with Quality 4.0, there is also HSE 4.0. Maybe this speaks a little less to the imagination, but there are some fantastic examples of HSE 4.0 initiatives. However, the same as for Quality 4.0, you need to have a solid infrastructure before you can even start to think about HSE 4.0. A proper and open HSE platform is a necessity if you want to push the HSE into the new era of HSE 4.0. Without this infrastructure, it will be next to impossible to handle all the data that is coming out of sensors, cameras and human interactions. The latest techniques will significantly increase the amount of data and a proper cloud platform is required to handle all the data.

The Data

HSE 4.0 will lead to a significant increase in the data that is generated in the HSE system. Sensors will be installed to track safety behavior, which leads to so much data that the platforms need to be able to handle this. There are even companies that are using cameras to detect unsafe situations and near misses. When this data is becoming available, the HSE platform should be able to easily integrate with these options to create near misses in the HSE system.

HSE 4.0 in real life

Quality 4.0 is quite straightforward when it comes to using data to improve the process, which should lead to better Quality. For HSE 4.0, the examples aren’t really out in the open but we do see some amazing examples of how to use AI, IoT and Augmented Reality. We have seen companies using sensors to detect stress on safety harnesses to detect when somebody falls. Also accelerometers in combination with GPS in helmets to see if people wear them is another example. When it comes to AI, companies are looking at options to use this technology to detect unsafe situations. Cameras are trying to identify these situations and classify them. Augmented Reality is used to show the safety instructions and safety data sheets in front of the employee when needed. These examples are premature but companies are experimenting with this. When these technologies become widely accessible, it is important to have the right platform to leverage them.

Better Safety Training

All the data that is gathered has as main goal: making work safer. That is the main goal for everything done within an HSE system. This should be accomplished by creating (awareness) training programs. The HSE data coming from all these different sensors and other data sources are the main input for this training. This way, the data get used to improve the safety of the employees. It is now possible to create training sessions based on machine-generated data combined with user-generated data. This will give a great option to build the training because people don’t always say what they mean, whereas machines don’t have this fallacy. Combining these two sources allows for much better training.

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The word of an auditor

Over the past months, we’ve interviewed about a dozen Quality and Safety external auditors. We have asked them about their experience and what they have seen in the market. The auditors were so kind as to share their experiences with different types of companies across the globe. We deliberately selected international auditors from many countries to get a good feeling of whatever is going on in different parts of the world. They also came from different certifying bodies.

We would like to thank every auditor that has been so kind to participate in the interviews.

General Impression of Auditors

The auditors that participated have experience in different kinds of organizations, from small organizations with ten employees till large organizations with more than a thousand employees. Next to the company size, they have experience in different markets. These can range from ICT, automotive, logistics, food production, oil and gas and large manufacturing plants. The auditors work with organizations all around the world from different cultural backgrounds.

Experiences of Auditors

There are quite some similarities among the experiences of the auditors. The most important topic, the involvement of management, is different within companies. Although every company needs top quality products or services, this clearly shows that not every top manager sees the QMS as a vehicle. In the case of the first, there is a high involvement from top management. In companies where management doesn’t see the importance, there is not so much involvement from management. This is a pretty challenging situation for a QHSE Manager to be in.

Another big factor of management involvement is the size and maturity of the company. When everyone in the company knows his or her role, everybody helps each other to make the process run smoothly. For a less mature and smaller company, the manager finds it difficult to hand over tasks and wants to do everything on their own.

Tip From the Auditor

At the end of every interview, there was the same question: do you have a tip for other auditors? Here are three examples of tips the auditors gave:

  • Don’t be dogmatic. There is no universal truth; every company has its own approach, which isn’t good or bad per se. Don’t be fixed to the exact wording of the standard either, there is a lot of room for interpretation. Look at the company, its size, its status, and its health and assess the company for its own capabilities. This is true for auditors but also Quality Managers.
  • Invest in your employees. Of course, within the financial capabilities of the company. Take a snapshot of your employees today and create a plan on what they should do in five years in terms of competence and skills.
  • A tip for auditors. Clients are very clever and resourceful. If you want to find out what is really going on in a company, ask questions to the operators and let him/her explain to you how the program works within the company. Don’t take way the appointed contact say for face value, talk with others in the organization, you will be amazed about what comes up.

These are just some general outcomes, but every auditor has a different experience. Are you curious about the experiences of the different auditors? Please wait till the end of the year and read the e-book for more details on this subject.

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The Unique Job of being a QHSE Manager

As QHSE manager, we can get somewhat cynical over time. This is completely understandable because we are constantly looking for ways to improve processes. It is even embedded in the continuous improvement methodology. You search for processes to improve so you mainly see suboptimal things. However, we should never forget that as a Q&S Manager, we have a certain position in the company that is rather unique. We are in direct contact with every aspect of the company and help these departments to do things better. Who else in the company can say that? Besides the involvement in the departments, you have different roles which are a great variation in the day-to-day activities. This special roles require some significant skills.

Connections

As the Q&S manager, you are at the center of lots of processes. You don’t own them, you are certainly not responsible for them, and a lot of them you don’t follow yourself. However, you should know how they flow within the company. In this unique position you are connected to every aspect of the company whether it be HR, Sales, or Production. Maybe you cannot go to all locations physically due to time/distance constraints, but you do know what is going on. You are also connected to the people that perform the processes either by working on improving the process or by auditing them. Alone or as part of the team, you are the one where people go to when they want to improve their way of working.

Involvement

You get involved in lots of projects within the company. Not always directly in the operations, but when something new is going to happen, you will be involved due to your focus on change and improvement. These can be simple improvement plans for better administrative tasks, but they can also be serious innovative solutions that help the company move forward. When you position yourself like this, you will be right at the innovation in the company.

Roles

The Q&S manager is a connector within the company. Within this role you are not just working along with the people, but you also need to motivate them and coach them.

Connector

You are the person that needs to bring people together to make the improvements happen,—the Connector. When everybody is informed, it is your main task to make people understand the importance and motivate them to change.

Motivator

After connecting people, the Motivator is needed to drive change within the company. People don’t want to change by themselves, you have to persuade them and get them moving, which is not an easy job. Being a great motivator will help a lot in achieving this goal. Getting some lessons and best practices will help a lot.

Coach

When you are able to motivate people to change, you also need to be their Coach in achieving these changes. Motivating them is just the first step, then you move into the coaching role and make sure the people are able to put the improvement into practice. Being a coach is hard because every person has a different way of absorbing knowledge and information. Make sure you have some techniques in your toolbox to coach the people.

Conclusion.

Being a Q&S manager is pretty awesome. It is definitely challenging and hard at times to get a budget for improvements or getting people on the same page. Never forget, you are really in the middle of the action and can have some great impact on the company. Please appreciate your role but keep fighting for the things you consider important.

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Quality as a driver for Growth

Quality Management is regularly seen as a cost center. The organization may have the feeling they need to shell out a significant amount of money to set up a Quality Management System and get it off the ground. Then when a certificate is required in order to prove that the QMS somehow functions, more money is needed. This perception is a big struggle for Quality departments all around the world, even though the facts are different. Quality is actually a true profit center if it is done correctly and genuinely incorporated into the fibers of the organization. This is because high-quality products and services are a key driver for added value and business growth. Creating and maintaining a high level of quality should, therefore, be a top priority to everybody in the organization.

Quality as Your Differentiator

The Quality of the products and services is the number one differentiator a company has. Having superior quality products and services will give the company a head start over any of its competitors. With this we mean Quality in the broadest sense of the word—from the first interaction with the sales team to the continuous interaction with the service team and everything in between. When this experience is world-class, people will come back and retaining an existing customer is so much easier than developing new ones all the time. Besides, the market will see the superiority of the products and services and companies want to do business without much effort. Hence when the Quality is high class and above expectation it will become a big driver for growth. This is very different than the cost center as some companies look at it.

The Quality Management System

To be honest, it is at the QMS level where the discrepancy between Top Management and operation starts to happen and where the problems start. Passionate Quality Professionals incorporate the standards in the QMS, which leads to quite some procedures. On the other hand, Top Management, as well as a number of employees, just see a bunch of required documents and procedures without much added value. They have the feeling the QMS is mostly created to please the auditors and not to have the quality in mind, let alone help them. However, these procedures and policies are designed to maintain the high level of Quality the company is striving for. It is crucial to articulate this clearly; leaving out any reference to the standards will be a good start. Next to that, keep talking about the added value of maintaining the Quality. Explain that the checks and balances such as audits and quality checks are created to maintain the Quality of the products and services, not to bother them. This is well known by us Quality professionals but it is not in the heads of Top Management. It is our job as Quality Professionals to get it there and show how the business can reach growth thanks to it.

Make It Measurable

When making compelling arguments to Top Management but also to other employees, it is essential to have data to back up claims. Data such as customer satisfaction, referrals from current customers, services call reductions, recall reductions, production error reductions, etc. When using data it is important to put them into perspective for Top Management. When, for example, production errors went up by 10 percent but production itself went up by 50 percent, the 10 percent isn’t really that bad. In this case it is better to make use of ratios. For numbers such as referrals from existing companies, they can be presented as they are. This also shows that it is important you get this data and you get involved in the sales organization as well to make sure you can trace back these referrals.

In Quality we might not impact the numbers directly but we create the road for others to excel and growth for the business.

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