Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do you need Quality Assurance or Police Department to implement QMS?

When I started as a new Quality Assurance Manager for a well-respected manufacturing company couple of years ago, the Manufacturing Manager approached me one day and asked me to write a CA (corrective action) to certain employee who made a half a shift worth of scrap (even though both set-up technician and his supervisor were in the area, and “in-process” checks were done and, ironically, recorded). QA or Police Department?

I was surprised, to say the least, that Corrective action system was being used to discipline employees (and thus, the CA’s issued to employees stored by HR in employee’s files together with the disciplinary notes- warnings). Also, I was told that my function will be to POLICE the quality and to make sure no bad products leave the plant.

In general, in my many years in different quality functions with various industries, the impression I had from other departments about quality folks is one that quality only knows about complaining, rejecting a lot, about issuing CARs etc. They don't seem to be proactive in sharing a problem but also in providing a solution. They are burden, not value added to the company.

If these people are expected to solve others' problems, the risk is that the QA person becomes responsible for the outcome in a process not in that person's control. QA people can advise but execution and decision-making is up to the process people. QA people can use the basic QA Management Tools to help facilitate the problem solving process and be coaches. These tools could sometimes be used in a meeting, and including representatives from various affected departments, where technically superior people and process owners/contributors can provide the input while the QA person asks the questions and uses the answers to execute the tools. Do this often enough and one could hope the process people can be steered toward adopting such tools for smaller level, day to day problem solving. The resulting solutions thus belong to the process (engineering) people, and the QA person is just facilitator.

As for the Police function, it requires Corrective Action to be elevated from the police action, and to focus on process (not on employee), and how it can be improved as to prevent the operator to miss again (training, error proofing, lean management, etc.).

In one instance I was doing internal audit, and I took a department's procedure, which was unclear on things like responsibilities. I made a bunch of notes on it that explained to the document's owner (department manager) what was needed. No need for him to guess and for us to push the thing back and forth until he got it right. Under old-style CA system, an auditor would be discouraged from teaching, but I feel it's a good time to move from cop to teacher (or coach). It's what my employer wants, which is especially important.

I wonder if your organization is sending mixed signals. Is the system set up through management for QA to behave in the Police Department mode and the process people are unhappy with the model? If so, the idea of coach/facilitator should be presented to management so everyone can understand the change QA is trying to make and why.

There will always be negative reaction to change. And if CA is issued to one department, its supervisor will always see it as a threat to his personal leadership and will go into defensive mode (“It’s not my fault”).

One way to accomplish the change of perception of the CA issued is developing a kindred relationship with a problem supervisor. Let him or her know that you aren't the cop, but just another guy fighting the same problem. Use Socratic questioning: instead of saying, "There's a problem and I'm here to solve it," which will almost always be perceived as threatening, use a series of conversational questions which will result in the supervisor coming up with the answer on his own. Start by suggesting that you're looking for help from him: "I have this problem x, and you have some experience in this regard, so maybe you can help me." This can be developed to the point where the focus is on the need for employee suggestions, and the supervisor can be asked how he thinks a process should be developed for it. In the end, a partnership can be formed, and you can work with the supervisor in solving his problem. First you have to gain his trust, and then you have to get him to identify the problem. Not easy, but if it were easy, anyone could do it. This method takes considerably longer but is much more likely to result in good long-term results. Culture is changed one manager at a time.

Going back to the story from beginning, my biggest successes - both in personal career growth and in organizational impact - has been when I turned our QA group (and it’s perception throughout the company) from policemen to change agents, coaches, leaders, consultants. I had my people make the first steps to reach out to the rest of the organization and to move from inspection to process control to problem solvers to process designers. Policing Quality is a lose/lose position for both the company and QA. While those measures may be required at times (tough love) it should be the action of last resort.

If the quality group doesn't lead quality improvement - who will?

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Please share your success stories, lessons learned, and ideas on the topic.

About the Author

Steve Zsivanov is a Professional Engineer and a Senior Member of the American Society for Quality, Membership Chair of Kitchener Chapter. He has more than 20 years of experience in implementing, managing and maintaining Quality Management Systems for a wide range of industries: automotive, aerospace and defense, manufacturing (precision machining, plastic injection moulding, assembly) and textile.

Steve holds a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering and is ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (ASQ CMQ), Certified Quality Engineer (ASQ CQE) and Certified Quality Auditor (ASQ CQA)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Style Guide for Quality Professionals: Always be specific

General words are minefields when it comes to professional writing in quality management. Examples of such words are:
  • always, 
  • never, 
  • all, 
  • none, 
  • lack, 
  • almost,
  • alike. 
If we used the word "never” and a single occurrence compromised this word, it has also compromised the reader’s trust to the whole message.

Words that express opinions should be used very carefully.Examples of such words are
  • comprehensive, 
  • clear, 
  • consistent, 
  • unambiguous. 

What is clear to one person may not be clear to someone else. If we decide to use such words, we need to agree on their definitions as a first step.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Use Consistent Terminologies

It is an important stylistic rule of non-technical writing to avoid repetitions in consecutive sentences. For example, if we talk about “Maria’s accomplishments” in one sentence, it is better to use “her achievements” in the second one. In technical correspondence it can lead to confusion because “accomplishments” and “achievements” may have some differences in meaning.

Here is a real example from quality audit report: “Process XYZ Suggestions: the Process XYZ was very good, but the following issues were discussed afterwards”. In this example a quality auditor used words “issue” and “suggestions” interchangeably. However, from the users’ perspectives an issue must be addressed while a suggestion can be considered. To add more confusion, the overall mark was “very good”.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Be brief and to the point

A quote often attributed to Mark Twain states, “Sorry about the long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one”. We value the reader’s time and try to be as concise as possible. We try to use descriptive words instead of descriptive paragraphs.

More practical tips in our best selling training course Audit Interview: Learn Journalists' Secrets.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Tell what you want and don’t tell what you don’t

It is said that “a goal well set is half way achieved”. There is no better way to set up a goal than to describe it in details. It can be a picture of what we want or conversely, what we don’t want to achieve as an outcome. Using an example from risk management practices, it is not as important to describe what can go wrong, but what our Plan B is. In other words, keep focus on solutions but not on problems and on expectations but not on precautions. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Style Guide for the Quality Professional: Always look at the bright side

Faults and obstacles are not necessarily negative: constraints spur creativity, problems lead to new solutions, and faults are key components of learning and making progress. Amazingly enough, the previous years of recessions are known as years when top numbers of top companies were created, such as FedEx, Microsoft, Apple, Genentech, Oracle or the SAS Institute.

By their nature, quality departments are accumulators of information about faults, defects, and problems. This information becomes highly valued to improve, innovate and be ahead of competition, but is effective only when the language of the quality professional is focused of the bright side of things.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Style Guide for the Quality Professionals

Words have incredible power. Words can hurt and words can help. They can build trust, inspire, and promote a sense of shared goals. Words can steer attention to the areas of commonality or vice versa, keep focus on elements that divide. Words can confuse or they can clarify. A single word can trigger a very powerful emotion and turn the conversation or even an entire business relationship in a different direction. Words should be carefully selected and only used deliberately.

This month on our blog we will concentrate on the wording, substance and style of messages communicated by quality professionals. It can serve as a practical guide to help quality auditors, managers, engineers, and other professionals clarify their written messages and inspire their readers to constructive actions. Materials presented here are based on many years of practical experience and analysis of what worked and what didn’t, in written communication related to auditing, consulting, and training in the area of management systems.

Rule # 1    Use only words with positive connotations
Words can create an emotional response in readers’ minds. Some words can remind the reader about a situation or circumstances connected to positive or negative emotions. Our goal in quality communication is to work through cooperation and mutual understanding. To achieve this goal we want to make readers’ responses 100% positive. We suggest using only words with positive connotations, those that would be less likely to trigger “fight or flight” response in our reader’s minds.

What words to use and what to avoid?  
More practical tips in our best selling training course Audit Interview: Learn Journalists' Secrets.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ISO 9001 for Small Businesses

Accounting for more than 95% of the world’s businesses, small and medium size companies play an important role in the modern day economy.

To satisfy the needs of small and medium businesses, ISO published a guide ‘ISO 9001 for Small Businesses What to do’.

The document follows the structure of the Standard and is focused on practical tips and advice form the experts. You can preview the publication here.

There are many ways how small businesses can benefit from using a quality management system from increased efficiency of operations to the opening up of export markets and increase of customers confidence.

Looking to develop the Quality Management System beyond the ISO 9001:2008? Learn about  ISO 9004:2009, Managing for the sustained success of an organization – A quality management approach in our updated training course Fundamentals of Business Sustainability.

Check out our fully customizable quality manual templates and procedures:

ISO 9001:2008 Quality Systems Manual and Procedures Templates Bundle

AS 9100 Quality Systems Manual Template