Thursday, July 1, 2021

Is Your Quality Policy Exceeding Your Abilities?

Policies. Every day we are governed by them. They provide direction to us on a wide variety of issues at work: the way we dress, the way we act, who gets hired, when/where we can eat, drink and smoke, or which websites we can access on our computers. These policies often are expressed in simple terms for everyone to understand and implement. “No smoking.” “Mask required.” “No open-toed shoes.” We are all familiar with these.

According to Wikipedia, a policy is, “a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes.” Although this definition sounds straightforward, many organizations struggle when it comes to creating a relevant Quality Policy statement, as defined in ISO 9001 Section 5.2.1. This requires organizations to fulfill the following conditions in their policies:

“Top management shall establish, implement and maintain a policy that: 

  1. Is appropriate to the purpose and context of the organization and supports its strategic direction
  2. Provides a framework for setting quality objectives
  3. Includes a commitment to satisfy applicable requirements
  4. Includes a commitment to continual improvement of the quality management system”

Knowing this, why is it that things often go awry when trying to establish and maintain a Quality Policy? To better understand this phenomenon, let’s consider common wording found in most quality policies: “We strive to meet and exceed customers’ needs and expectations.”

At first glance, this phrase appears to be appropriate to include in a Quality Policy. However, when compared closely to the requirements listed above, this might not be so true. In considering the first item of the requirement, the policy to “meet and exceed” may not always be “appropriate to the purpose of the organization,” however laudable the intention. Imagine this situation:

A customer orders a burger and fries at a fast food drive-thru. In response, the cashier asks over the speaker, “Would you like a glass of Merlot with your burger?” Is this congruent with the customers’ needs and expectations? Or the organization’s strategic direction? Probably not. The customer needs and expects just what they ordered – nothing more, nothing less.

Wikipedia goes on to mention that policies can have unintended effects: “The policy formulation process theoretically includes an attempt to assess as many areas of potential policy impact as possible, to lessen the chances that a given policy will have unexpected or unintended consequences.” Applied to the above example of “meeting and exceeding customer needs and expectations” at the drive-thru, it is possible to see how there might be some unexpected and unintended consequences.

Depending on where your business sits in the supply chain, just doing what the customer asks is fine for many organizations. Of course, through the sales processes of quoting and order taking, customers might be advised what is (commercially) achievable from an organization, so that the third item from the ISO 9001 policy requirements is followed – “satisfying applicable requirements.” However, care should be taken not to over-commit to something the organization is unprepared to deliver. Here, it is best to follow the motto of, “Under promise, over deliver.”

Once the policy is effectively written according to the requirements, how can we be sure it’s being successfully adopted? Many policies are readily observed, for example the ‘no smoking’ policy, the personal protective equipment policy, equal opportunity employment, etc. How is a Quality Policy demonstrated as being effectively implemented?

One way to measure this is to apply SMART objectives, which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based, in accordance with the Quality Policy, such as the second requirement listed:

b) Provides a framework for setting quality objectives

If an organization has a Quality Policy that is truly aligned with the needs and expectations of the customer, the fundamental principles of “On Time, In Specification,” or OTIS, can be applied across various functions and processes of the organization:

  • Sales – quotes are accurate (in spec.) and delivered to a customer on time
  • Manufacturing - processes produce product (in spec.) on time
  • Maintenance - keeping equipment running (in spec.) and performed on time
  • Training - ensuring people are competent to do their jobs (in spec.) when they need it (on time)
  • New Product Development - creating products (in spec.) released on time (time to market)
  • Shipping – delivering the right product (in spec.) on time

These SMART objectives provide a method for tracking and measuring performance to determine how successful the application of the Quality Policy really is. Targets may be established, for example, for 93% on time, 98% first pass yield, etc., for precise goal tracking as well.

Peter Drucker, noted management consultant and author, often is credited with the quote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” This leads to the final requirement of ISO 9001’s Quality Policy:

  1. Includes a commitment to continual improvement of the quality management system

The established Quality Policy should drive the need for improvement. It has never been sufficient – in any sized business – to rest on the laurels of what brought success. There must be growth and improvement. Rarely are customers’ needs, let alone expectations, always met, so we should be driven to continuously analyze performance to look for ways to improve all business processes.

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