Making Quality Management More Agile

Agility is the answer! To almost everything. As soon as we talk about an organization and its future, there’s no way around agility. But we don't always ask about the hows and whys. Instead, we take care of the what. A fatal mistake.

Narrow-minded quality

As a QM auditor, I like to ask my interview partners what their QM system helps them do. The answer is often – too often, “Our QM system describes everything, and I mean everything, exactly. And when a new employee joins our organization, they can read up on everything using these descriptions. And then they know exactly what they have to do and can quickly find their way around.”

If that really is all the system can do, it is a very poor system indeed. Being able to read up on descriptions is a side effect; the real use of an organization’s own QM system lies somewhere else entirely. Note that I said: “an organization’s own QM system”. A lot of organizations have a QM system, but it’s not their own. The systems are often purchased by consultants that are more or less competent and maybe even less diligent. A consultant who is a successful salesperson for a system that has already been sold many times over may no longer be a consultant, but they certainly get rich more quickly. The only one who loses out is the customer who thinks they now have their own QM system. And then auditors enter the company with prefabricated check lists to check if “everything” is available – read: described – without understanding what things should be available for, how they should be available and why, and this rounds the system off – badly.

Figuratively speaking, we then have instructions on how to potentially drive a car. We might even have a car. Maybe. But we’re not completely sure where we stand and where we want to go. And nobody really cares. Not even management. This is narrow-minded and miles away from what a QM system can do and should do and therefore not worth the money (especially as these systems usually cost quite a lot). So much for destruction.

Consistently constructive quality

As a rule, quality management systems can and should be seen integrally. This starts and ends with management – taking an extensive journey throughout the entire company and its context. In other words, anyone who thinks quality management refers solely to the quality of products or services hasn’t really understood either.

It’s nothing new: We need to consistently keep an eye on the company and its environment. This includes customers just as much as employees and neighbors – let’s just call them stakeholders. Neither the product itself nor the customer are the only decisive factors here. We always need to look at everything. This is not a voluntary exercise, it is an ISO 9001 requirement. Defining the topics, expectations and requirements of your own organization and its services is imperative – as is acting accordingly: constructively and consistently.

Generally, this starts with defining what your organization stands for and what it wants to stand for. ISO 9001 describes this as a quality policy that then stands for the necessary vision and strategy as an operating system. Companies that aim to offer first-class premium services have to put that into their policy. And then think about where, exactly, the “first-class” and the “premium” and the “services” should take place. This is followed by implementation by every member of the company, regardless whether they are heads of departments, kitchen help or parking attendants. ISO 9001 demands awareness of the quality policy and the company’s goals – and especially awareness of what each individual can contribute in order to realize them. Only if all of this is present (described!) and has been consistently understood by everyone, can an organiza- tion constructively act accordingly; everyone, at any time, for the benefit of the whole organization. Consistently constructive!

Competent collaborative quality

This mandatory requirement, namely, that every employee commits to and takes responsibility for the company, its policy and goals, is the foundation for agility. Agile organizations are fast, flexible, motivated and ready for (almost) anything. However, employees can only meet these requirements if they know what their organization stands for and where it wants to go. Otherwise, it’s it might be true that you are fast – but you’re running in the wrong direction. Agile organizations value people, their needs and possibilities  and  especially their cooperation; or even better: their togetherness, also known as collaboration.

And that’s nothing new, either! Under the principles of quality management, ISO 9001 states: “Competent, authorized and committed people on all levels of the organization are essential to improve the organization’s capability, to create values and to bring value.” This is fuel for agility: competent, authorized, committed. This is not new. Nor is it surprising.

And yet: in many organizations, we still see that this basic understanding of togetherness within the organization is not only ignored, it is almost actively prevented.

On the one hand, many managers still see themselves as the spearhead of competence. In this respect, shifting competencies and authorities “downwards” would equate a theoretical loss of power, and even more so a real loss. On the other hand, we have the difficulty that horizontal competencies and authorities with strict departmental boundaries are defended from within the managers’ own silos. Or are even outright rejected in other cases – precisely because there are no authorities and therefore no responsibilities, full stop. And finally, I could mention the fact that someemployees just don’t see a reason to commit themselves beyond the limits of their job description, which is of course firmly embedded within the QM system. The greatest hit: “They’re not paying me to do that!”

All this needs to be cleaned up. This means: Based on the organization’s context, management must determine what the organization stands for and what the organization wants to achieve. This requires employees who stand behind this exact meaning and direction and who want to contribute to realizing these goals together: collaboratively. This in turn requires managers to not only trust their people, but to have confidence in them. It is important to understand that every person has to be capable of making decisions and of acting within their own role, or in other words, has to be competent, and that this always has to happen in the context of the big picture. Today’s leadership competence, and tomorrow’s, is and will be the ability to steer and above all to facilitate, to create framework conditions and alignments.

Then we will not only have an agile but above all a successful organization with its own, living QM system. And new employees will no longer have to read descriptions in order to understand what it’s all about: They will feel and experience it! And that’s what counts.

The Author

Dr. Markus Reimer is a Quality Auditor and keynote speaker from corporate practice. In his lectures, he points out the presumed boundaries and potential in the thoughts and actions of people and organizations.

www.markusreimer.com

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