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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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How a good Quality Management System helps the company.

Everybody in Quality knows that having a functioning Quality Management System will reduce costs. Maybe not the next day, but in the long haul it will make the company money if it is functioning properly—and this is where the real problems lie. A significant number of Quality Management Systems don’t function correctly, either due to a lack of resources or due to a lack of involvement by management. However, when it does function properly, the company can really streamline operations and get a better position in the market.

Lack of Importance

This is probably one of the biggest struggles for Quality Managers. Top Managers may understand the importance of having Quality Standards, but they don’t really understand Quality Assurance and how it can help the bottom line.

Top management isn’t always willing to invest in proper platforms and tools to manage all the data and allow for detailed analysis. They don’t see why the company needs such a platform. They will come up with things like, “we have already an ERP system”. This really shows they need to be educated because an ERP system is not going to help with structuring the QMS and improving the processes.

The Impact

Top management looks at the production rate and how much has been produced over the last month. They look for possibilities to increase the output with the same number of people. Yes, it might be possible to increase the output but it will have an effect on the quality. The issue is that these implications aren’t always instantly clear. Problems might start to occur weeks or months after the products have been delivered to the customer. So for a period of time, it looks like the production increase had a positive impact on the number. However, when the warranty claims start to come in, increasing production might not have been such a great plan.

The point is that a significant number of companies cannot even track these basic numbers, because their QMS isn’t working properly. Warranty claims aren’t properly logged in the QMS which makes it very hard to find this correlation. This is just a simple example but there can be a range of different correlations within your company. The company cannot see the implication of their choices because the QMS is simply ineffective here.

The Importance

Having a functioning Quality Management System in place is important to keep the Quality of products high. In order to really reduce the production costs, some parts are critical in a QMS.

Structured Way of Working

Documenting the ways a company operates is a good technique to get a feeling of what the company actually does and what comes to building the products or providing the services. This can be a process, procedure, work instruction, SOP, etc. It doesn’t really matter how it is called, as long something is documented and easily transferable to a new employee. The documented way of working is crucial in maintaining a certain level of quality within the company. It would be very weird if every employee can decide for themselves on how to assemble a piece of machinery. Make sure these documents are easily accessible and transferable.

Improvement Plans

A proper Quality Management System will harvest data on everything that goes wrong within the company. This data can be leveraged by the Quality Department to come up with improvement plans that are based on facts. This will directly lead to better products, shorter production time, less rework, etc. Having the actual data at the fingertips and being able to track it over time allows the Quality department to measure if the improvement plans actually work or if they need changing. Data-driven improvement plans enable companies to reduce a lot of costs.

Historical Data

Data is, like in most parts of business, key for Quality Management. As touched upon before, having data to correlate issues to change in the production flows allows for finding the root cause for the problems. It also allows for finding correlations during certain seasons. The data is golden for starting off the right improvement plans.

When combining the Quality data with data from other platforms, the company can really start to streamline the organization. Connecting planning data to the Quality data allows for finding correlations between shifts and issues. These things can only be realized when the data is within the company.

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Mobile app in QHSE Management

The mobile phone and usage of apps has got a prominent place in our lives—maybe a bit too prominent. Still, many companies don’t allow their employees to use their mobile phones during work time. There are numerous valid reasons for not allowing it: unsafe, loss of productivity, distractions, etc. When a company applies this policy, they mainly look at the negative sides of using a mobile phone.

There are indeed drawbacks of using mobile phones during work, but simply blocking them out means the company misses out. There is much potential in mobile usage for the QHSE management system, so it’s a real shame not to utilize this.

Why Not?

Companies have great reasons why not to use the mobile phone during working hours. They claim that people will use the phone for personal activities, such as personal calls or simply using Facebook. Yes, people will do this when they have their phone in reach, but you should also trust your employees that they know the balance between work and personal time.

The point of it being unsafe is a lot stronger. People will use the phone while they are working, which means they don’t pay attention to their work. We’ve all seen the videos of people getting into accidents due to this.

These are both serious complaints, and awareness training sessions should be provided to make this really clear. People should only use the phone during work when it is safe and for work-related actions.

Why?

There are quite a few reasons why phones should be banned from the workplace. However, the possibilities of the mobile phone in QHSE are enormous. The use of mobile apps in the QHSE management system will lead to a significant amount of new data and insights.

The ease of use of the mobile app in QHSE management is tremendous. People are so used to grabbing their phone for everything in their personal lives, hence training time and adoption. Most people intuitively know how to use a mobile app, especially when it is designed similar to the other apps they use on their mobile phone. The user is used to getting notifications when things change in apps, which is very convenient when things need to be done for the QHSE management system.

Harvest QHSE Data

Employees can file NCRs, fill out forms, and check out data without hurdles. They don’t have to find the form somewhere on a computer and type everything that they need to fill in—don’t get me started on the challenge of adding pictures to it. Doing this on an app is very simple if the right platforms are used.

Filling in forms and gathering the information is one easy example of what is possible with the mobile QHSE app. We have seen a 100 percent increase in issues filed due to the ease of use of mobile phones. Also, the ability to autocomplete data makes the mobile app the number one platform for creating QHSE management data. Things like QR-code scanning and GPS data make it so easy to gather lots of data without much effort. Next to the administrative actions, online training for safety and quality awareness or new work instructions can easily be performed on the mobile with the right platform.

Proper Policy

When you allow employees to use the phone on the production sites, it is crucial to have some clear guidelines to prevent undesired behavior. The employees have to understand that they get this freedom but always have to put their own safety first no matter what happens. Also make it clear that they need to do the work and don’t spend their time on Facebook. Good guidelines and clear consequences when they don’t follow the guidelines.

Conclusion

Not utilizing the mobile phone is a loss of opportunity to improve the QHSE management and the safety and quality culture. An app makes it so much easier for employees to interact with the QHSE management system and makes them more aware of this. Give employees this option but clearly communicate what kind of behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.

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How to use data to select the best improvement projects

Possibly one of the hardest things to do is make a selection of all the possible improvement projects that are possible for the company. Talks with quality and safety managers showed that this topic is pretty high on their list. A lot of you struggle with managing internal projects/initiatives and how to prioritize them. Prioritizing projects and knowing where to assign resources is more of an art than a science and the road to the result might not be linear. It is important to balance short-term gains with long-term impact.

Start with Data

The number one input to make a good call is having the data. It should be possible to find out where things go wrong and how much the financial implications are. It would be even better if there is data available on different root causes that caused the issues. All the data can be analyzed and ordered to be helpful in making the right decision on which improvement projects utilizes the resources the best.

Selecting Projects

When selecting projects, it is always good to look at perceived value but also to look critically at the time required implementing the improvement project. Some great criteria to look for are:

  • Time required.
  • Impact on the business.
  • Impact for customers.

These can be applied in any particular order and should be in line with company goals. When there are already projects going on, a new high-impact project might not be the best choice.

Short-Term Gains

The time needed to implement and verify the results is an important aspect when selecting the projects to work on. Of course, projects with a high financial benefit and a short time period are the gems but also most of the times are already finished.

Short-term improvement plans with a positive impact for the customers are even better. These will help boost customer satisfaction or customer loyalty, both of which are very important for the continuity of the company.

Internal process improvements are more important to streamline the internal process, which could result in a positive effect for the customers. They are essentially implemented to improve the operations. These projects can be hard to find resources for because not all the losses of time in the process are always crystal clear. Here, data is very important because the data will help in proving the importance of the changes. Also, these projects require some willingness to change by employees, which will lead to resistance.

Long Term ROI

When we look for more long-term improvements with a longer ROI it can be hard to find the required resources. These plans require a completely different approach. Due to the long-term impact on the company, it is good to align them with the company’s vision and make them strategic for the organization. This can be done regardless of the size of the company. These projects require significant buy-in from the company hence top management involvement is key in this.

Long-Term Impact on Product

Then there are the projects that have a long-term impact on the product or service the company produces. These projects will have major benefits over the long haul for customers and business. Most of the time the R&D department does these projects but they can also be initiated by quality when it comes to production improvement. However, a close collaboration between engineers and quality is very important. The drawback is the long development time which requires serious resources. A clear ROI is important in this case.

Conclusion

In the end, it all comes down to internal resources and how to deploy them. As long as decisions are based on data that has been collected by the company, they are backed with some sort of evidence. Of course you shouldn’t stare blind on the data because there could be opportunities that haven’t been part of the data collection until now.

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Simple Guide to Process Improvement

As discussed in one of our previous blog posts on process mapping, the handover from one process to another is a critical point where many difficulties arise. When both processes are done by the same person, the difficulties might be limited, but when performed by more than one person, it becomes exponentially harder. On top of that, when information needs to flow from one system to another, significant difficulties can arise even when performed by the same person.

Different People

In the first case when the handover is between people, communication is key. Every person needs to have access to all the critical information. A good example is when the customer switches from sales to project execution, or from project execution to support, or in a different scenario from sales straight to support. Having the right information is crucial for the next person in line to support the customer effectively. All the information needs to be known to the next person. This includes all the things that went badly, as well as all the things that went well. This allows the next employee to be prepared for any potential difficulties. The handover between people can practically be done by having a physical or digital handover meeting. During the meeting, the team will have an open discussion. Simply start by creating a structured calendar for every handover meeting to give some guidance to the people.

Different Systems

Another potential pitfall is the switch between systems when one process flows into the next. For example, when a deal has been closed, it may have to go from your CRM to ERP for order handling. A seamless integration prevents people from keying in the information again and introducing errors. Hence, a good integration is money well spent. Also check which information is crucial for an effective handover. You don’t have to hand over every email and calendar invite, but make sure you give as much relevant information as possible. As pointed out in the previous paragraph, make sure you hand over what is important.

Outcome Is Key

Regardless if the process goes from one person to another or switches systems, the end result is what matters during the handover. It happens all too often that information cannot be found or just disappears. This seriously harms the outcome of the process and the start of the next. Make sure you have some sort of guidance in place for the handing over process.

Audits

Audits are great methods to check how the handover is performed in practice, not just on paper. Companies come up with the best playbooks, but it doesn’t mean it always works. With an audit, you can simply check the handover and see what went wrong. You can even perform a brown paper audit to get a good idea of where the handovers actually are and which information is crucial during the handover.

Conclusion

Handovers can costs the company some serious money if they aren’t done properly. This means that a lot of money can be saved by coming up with a great way of handling this. Check out what information is crucial and make sure it is transferred properly.

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Workshop Qooling: How to use data as input to improve my business.

Last week we hosted a great workshop by Tessa Lange. She is an expert in continuous improvement and shows the participants how to use data as an input to improve business. Some key take-aways will be pointed out in this post.

Why Collect Data?

Lots of companies collect a ton of data without any valid reasons. Data is often described as the new gold and therefore companies just collect tons of it, sometimes without reason. The downside of this is that somebody needs to create that data. In a company setting, this means that the employees need to key in the data into some sort of system. Creating this data costs time and effort by the employees. Hence, collecting the data without any purpose is a huge waste of valuable time and effort. Also, when people need to fill in a ton of forms and they don’t see the benefits of this, they will either get very frustrated or simply stop filling in the data. With this knowledge, it is even more important to think twice about why you collect certain data. Of course, there can be very good reasons for collecting the data like laws, certain standards or maybe to improve the company. Just think about the reason for every point of data that you are collecting.

How Do I Rate the Data?

When the data is collected, it is important to rate the data and check its reliability and validity.
  • Reliability = If you measured it again, would the outcome be the same?
  • Validity = Do you really measure what you want to measure?
To be on the same page with your employees, it is important set certain norms on what data is right and what data is wrong. Data is often used as a yardstick to measure performance and in order to do this sensibly, you need to know if the data is usable.

Interpreted the Data

Interpreting data isn’t as easy as it may sound. To draw conclusions out of data you need to understand the context. Context can be the unit of the data point or the relation of the data to data in a previous period or even a benchmark you work against. Simply concluding if the company is doing a good or bad job based on the data doesn’t make sense. Make sure you have context. When the context is clear and you are measuring the same data over and over again, you can check for anomalies in the data. Look for spikes or drops in the data, or points that break the pattern.

Start Improvement

When all the data is collected and you start to see trends that aren’t according to the plan, you can dive into these trends to see what goes wrong. When you really start to see a negative trend, you can start an improvement process to try to break the trend. This can be relatively easy, just for example, by talking with suppliers when they make too many mistakes. On the other hand, these plans can be pretty elaborate like complete safety awareness programs. The results of these improvements should be measured on an acceptable timeline. You cannot expect to see safety changes in a couple of weeks. While improvements from a supplier should be seen relatively quickly.

Conclusion

The most important lesson is “context”. Always have a context before you analyze the data. Before you know it, you are improving the wrong processes. Published by: