Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Are You a Slave To Your Quality Management System? (Part 2)

In my previous post I proffered up some suggestions as to why many organisational Quality Management Systems end up as Quality Management Shambles. My hypothesis is that too many management systems (quality or otherwise!) are created for the wrong reasons, and generally get created without due care and attention to quality principles, systems principles or architectural and design principles. Over time, without a strong foundation on which to build, the QMS grows chaotically and incongruously, and ceases to be able to serve the people it should have been intended for in the first place. Instead, the organisation becomes a slave to the QMS.

In this second part, I'm going to expand on the five questions I posed in part one, with specific regard to the principles mentioned above - Quality, System, and Architecture/Design.

Question 1 -  What is the purpose of your QMS?

I surmise that if I asked that question in a certified ISO 9000 organisation (or many organisations successfully asssessed at CMMI L2/3) I would get a  different answer for each person that I asked - and certainly different answers from different levels of the business). Typical responses:

  • Developers - it's because of this ISO/CMMI initiative
  • Middle Management - to ensure compliance
  • Senior Management - so that our staff know what they have to do
  • Executive Management - so that we can standardise operations and efficiencies across the business

The real reason for a QMS has most likely been forgotten or distorted over time. If you cannot articulate you reasons for having a QMS (think elevator speech here) then it's probably time for a major review. Adherence and compliance to standards may be valid reasons for a QMS but they really must not be the primary drivers. You also need to consider whether your QMS has become a substitute for training. If your induction speech for new starters includes "you need to read the quality manual to understand how we do things round here" you probably need to rethink both your QMS and your training strategy, not to mention your induction techniques!

Question 2 - Who is the intended audience?

Most managers will glibly answer this by saying that the QMS is mandated for all staff, but the truth is that the mandate (and usage) will also certainly be biased towards the lower levels of the organisational hierarchy. In far too many organisations senior managers cannot even tell you where to locate the corporate policies never mind being able to explain them or even abide by them (even though they are responsible for them!).

Ideally a QMS will be architected from multiple viewpoints; a developers needs will differ from someone in HR or Finance, so it makes sense to organise a management system accordingly. That said, it doesn't follow that HR related material should be restricted to HR staff. A good QMS must be transparent across the enterprise.

Question 3 - How do we intend our staff to use it?

This is linked to elements of the preceeding questions. Ideally, the QMS will be a simple to use, easy to navigate, supporting reference for staff. Inexperienced 'users' can see as much detail as necessary, whilst more experienced 'users' can filter out the information so that the material acts as a memory jogger when they need guidance.

Having a good, well maintained QMS does not abrogate the organisation from ensuring that staff are 'trained' in company policy and procedure - and this should be on-going for all staff across the business, especially as changes and modifications are made.

Failure to design and architect a QMS from multiple perspectives will devalue it over time, and once it becomes 'shelfware' (or whatever the cyber equivalent is) it becomes a potential source of many other cultural problems.

Question 4 - Does the QMS reflect the way we actually work and our culture?

In the same way that failing to architect and design a QMS according to our basic principles initially will ultimately devalue it, the QMS should be continuously updated to reflect changes to working practices, regulations, and cultural changes. Most importantly, things that are wrong, inappropriate or outdated must be modified or removed as early as possible. Users do not want to be placed in a situation where they are required to demonstrate compliance to a process, policy or procedure which may be detrimental to their daily work. A mechanism for emergency fixes is critical and a queuing system for change requests is not good enough. A waiver system must be in place to allow teams to bypass incongruous instructions, and this process must be quick and simple. [Note that a waiver is a temporary mechanism and requires appropriate governance to prevent abuse!  - see my blog entry from July 2009 for more about waivers]

As a user of dozens of management systems over the years the things that annoy me most are (in no particular order) - over complexity, difficulty to navigate, response times and missing or inconsistent information. Which brings us onto the final question...

Question 5 - Is the QMS aligned to the system that is our organisation?

For me, this is the fundamental question. If we accept the basic premise that an organisation is a system, then it goes without saying that the QMS should map against that system and should mirror the entities, interactions and flows that exist in the real world of the enterprise. It should reflect the internal corporate culture and use the organisations language and terminology. Most of all, it should reflect what you do, not what you think the auditors or assessors are expecting you to do. When it comes to the QMS too many organisations waste too much time and effort doing the wrong things.

So, there you have some quick answers to my five questions. A good QMS will be an valuable asset to everyone in the organisation. A well designed and architected QMS that aligns to the business systems, objectives and values, and is maintained accordingly will be welcomed by the majority of staff and most importantly it will get used - for the right reasons.

Take back control of your QMS today, and stop being a slave to it!

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