Introduction

‘We need a Quality Assessor’.

‘It would be cheaper to get a rubbish one!’

Anon

Most successful businesses nowadays have some form of Quality Management System (QMS). Fewer people now see competing on price alone as a satisfactory business formula. Why?

  • Someone, somewhere will always be able to undercut you, so it’s usually better to sell on quality rather than on price.
  • Customer expectations are rising all the time, so woe betide you if you don’t meet them.
  • Procurement systems usually require tendering firms to have some form of QMS, and generally prefer an externally-accredited one. In practice, this means ISO certification. If you haven’t got that, you won’t even get a ticket to the ball.

On a more positive note, employee motivation has been linked to carefully-designed QMS approaches.

There are two basic approaches: one is driven by standards, the other by aspirations. Standards-driven quality is sometimes seen as simply a certificate of accreditation, a ‘ticked box’, a point of arrival. But if you want to stay ahead of your competitors, it soon becomes a journey towards ‘excellence’ which has no final destination.

An identifiable quality initiative is often needed to start with, and this may involve someone with a job title such as Quality Manager or Excellence Director. It’s not just their responsibility alone though; it’s everyone’s. That’s because quality should in time become ‘just the way we do things round here’. Over the years, quality has had many titles, but whatever you call it, unless everyone in the organisation thinks quality matters and acts accordingly, improvement will be an uphill struggle. So, like charity, quality begins at home. Whether or not your job includes a specific responsibility for it, what you do matters.

Many models and techniques have been developed to help the process. Some apply to any business. Others are specialised. They can save you re-inventing the wheel, but like a road atlas, they are just a guide – you have to fill in the blanks. However, they share some simple guiding principles. The essence is to

  1. Select something to improve
  2. Plan the improvement
  3. Do whatever will make the improvement
  4. Check the effect
  5. Act on the new information.

The models vary in the aspects of organisational development to which they apply this cycle, and where they place most emphasis. Some are designed for any organisation, while others are sector- or activity-specific. Some are highly complex, while others in effect codify existing (good) practice. They have generally evolved over the years to develop a more external focus, and most now seek improvement from several angles.

Key tip

Perfection is not ‘good enough’. Make it better.