Quality is more than a department

When I speak with many of my clients, especially in the SMB space, I find that the majority have quality departments that are  focused on corrective actions and nonconformence. I think there is a better way. We should look for opportunities to integrate quality with the entire product development process. Frequently metrics used to manage a product development project focus on the end, or the post-development process. This nudges employees to place emphasis on the end result, therefore rushing through the journey and lowering overall quality. This creates a negative feedback loop that generates more corrective actions and nonconformance write ups.

 A sole focus on completion and “what’s wrong” is a disservice to overall product quality.

Just like when you are training for a marathon, it’s the culmination of the day-to-day activities that lead to success. When we focus on just one part of the process, we don’t have optimal efficiency. We should manage our teams to have stronger attention to detail during the whole development cycle. Stage gates should be setup for each milestone of the design process. The entire team should be focusing on quality improvement for each step.  Aging reports for the release phase, which are used frequently during change management, certainly have their place, but as they are the last piece they shouldn’t be the sole focus. This mentality will lead to rework and lower satisfaction from both customer and employe alike. Instead, establishing protocols to evaluate all phases helps to integrate quality into everyday activity for the team. Quality is no longer only in focus when an issue arises. Now everyone is on the quality team.

Self-inflicted silos

When quality and design have tighter integration, production changes due to error are reduced. This outcome is unlikely if there is system fragmentation. Occasionally, I see Quality Management System (QMS) divorced from Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Here’s why this is a mistake: It creates an incorrect assumption that quality is the responsibility of the “Quality Department” and not of every team member. Tool usability is likely a primary driver for this perspective. I’ve seen the user interfaces for many enterprise systems improve and become more user-friendly and intuitive, but there is considerable lag compared to the simplicity and efficiency of technology that have become part of our daily routine – most notably the smart phone. Fortunately interfaces can be improved, and shouldn’t be a reason to separate quality and product development systems.

Higher quality, more sales

When we have a higher level of quality, our customers are happier. This translates to lower warranty issues, and repeat business, and more revenue. This easily justifies the additional upfront investment.

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