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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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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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