Registered Quality Management Systems (QMS) such as ISO or TS are nothing new to our industry, and many finishers have enjoyed the benefits of a registered QMS for well over a decade. (Not sure what a QMS is? Read on. The benefits are described later in this column.) When it comes to QMSs, there are four types of companies. Which of the following describes yours?
1) Those with no standardized system for managing the quality effort.
2) Those with an unregistered QMS. In other words, the company has a QMS but it has not been audited and registered by an independent registrar. These companies often refer to their QMS as "ISO-compliant." This group can be further separated into two groups: those that really do have a functioning QMS but haven't been willing to spend the money to have it audited and registered; and those that don't really have a functioning QMS but want customers and potential customers to think they do.
3) Those with a registered QMS that basically functions as a marketing tool. These companies have a registered QMS because their customers said they had to, or maybe because they wanted to hang shingle in the lobby and paste a logo on letterhead and business cards. They tend to scramble three days before the audit to scrape by and keep the registration, only to go back to the old way of doing things once the auditor has left. In these companies, the QMS is generally seen as a function of the quality department and a necessary evil.
4) Those that have a fully integrated, fully functional QMS. The entire organization—from the front line to the front office—participates; the effort is not relegated to the quality departmen. Team members diligently comply with work instructions and procedures. Corrective and preventive actions are used to facilitate continuous improvement. The management review process is used as a company-wide planning and review tool.
If you find yourself in group one, you are already finding it harder and harder to compete in today's marketplace and your opportunities for growth are likely bleak. Strongly consider moving into the 21st Century.
The news for those in group number two, trust me, is that the world sees through the term "ISO-Compliant." If your QMS is truly ISO-Compliant, spend the extra few grand and take credit for it. The alternative is to leave your customers wondering whether you're seriously cash strapped or are a charlatan.
Companies in the third group are missing a huge opportunity. Shift your "QMS paradigm" from viewing your system as a necessary evil to a tool that can lead to huge improvements in the quality of your product and the performance of your company.
Those in group four need no advice from me; you already get it.
Why am I such a proponent of a registered QMS? While a QMS guru could come up with a list as long as his arm to describe all of the benefits of a QMS, to me there are four primary benefits.
A QMS requires policies, procedures, forms and instructions used in business operation. All procedures necessary to optimize a customer's experience are properly documented. This practice proves invaluable in training and in ensuring that procedures don't walk out the door with an employee who quits or retires. Further, these hold team members accountable. Documentation of procedures, accompanied by training, provides a repeatable process that maximizes yield.
A QMS requires a formal corrective and preventive action system which, when used properly, enables anyone—customers, managers, shop floor associates—to call out a problem in the organization. The true root cause of the problem is then identified and resolved. This practice creates a paper trail for continuous improvement and ensures that problems are not swept under the rug.
A QMS requires a system to solicit customer feedback and routinely measure customer satisfaction. We all think we know our customers, but customer satisfaction surveys invariably turn up a less-than-satisfied customer. This enables you to resolve issues before a customer decides to move the business. Further, this practice is also a reminder that most customers are truly satisfied. Since unsatisfied customers are the ones who, rightly so, get the attention, it's nice to be reminded of those who are otherwise quietly satisfied by your performance.
A QMS requires a regular management review process. This requires management to consider the effectiveness of its QMS on a regular basis. Properly used, the management review is also used as a business planning and improvement tool.
If your company falls into one of the first three groups described above, you have some work to do. Just know that the benefits are well worth the effort.