A company director recently related quality at their company to his training as an apprentice carpenter. He was told to “start right”. Before you cut any piece of wood, pick it up and inspect it. Is it the right piece of wood? Pick up your saw and inspect it. Is it the right tool for the job? Check your measurements twice and cut once. Once the wood is cut, it is too late to go back and check any of these.

In a similar way, a young organisation can start right by putting in place systems and processes that enhance productivity without stifling creativity.

As a graduate engineer starting my career in Australian manufacturing, I relied on the systems and processes in place to provide safe boundaries within which I could thrive. Managers and mentors were the role models I looked up to, and embodiment of the habits I would come to assume. They taught me to understand my customer and their needs. They taught me that changes need to be controlled and tested to prevent wasted efforts and rework.

Quality systems and processes enable creativity to be productive

Quality management systems in the 21st century are as essential in design and manufacturing as they ever were. Whilst there are multiple design methods employed (agile, waterfall, devops, design thinking, systems thinking) a defined and clear process is key to efficiently ensure outputs deliver requirements.

Manufacturers still must ensure their customer is getting a reliable product that meets their expectations. To be a profitable venture, the Manufacturer wants to do this in the most efficient way possible with the least amount of waste and rework.

What Ever Could Go Wrong?

Outsourcing of activities such as the manufacturing of key components or the product itself is like handing over the steering wheel in a rally car. Your organisation provides the navigation, but if your supplier misses the turn the race is lost and you could crash.

Poor control of design changes can be like fitting premium off-road tyres just as you are approaching a section of sealed road.

Periods of rapid growth that occur during a scale-up phase in an organisation often bring in a few highly experienced people and a multitude of juniors. With this brings great opportunity to introduce best practice to internal systems and processes, and a great need to embed them in the training and development of the younger workforce. The risk is inconsistency, inefficiency and frustration as expectations are not aligned between teams and individuals. The organisation risks customer complaints, internal conflicts, even recalls, lost revenue and excessive costs.

When to Start the Quality Journey

As soon as an organisation starts delivering products or services to clients, quality becomes relevant and important. If your clients are asking for ISO9001 then it is simple. If you think your future clients will be asking, now is the time to start preparing.

Treat quality management as a journey, often with a vague beginning and no ending. It is best approached by establishing minimum standards and basic processes, then a continual tweaking of those processes to improve the way the organisation operates as it grows and changes. Feedback loops to understand how well the organisation is delivering should become more finetuned over time, and relevant quality targets and performance measures are essential for this.

A Warning

Finally, a warning for potential quality organisations – essential to the success of quality management is its leadership. Quality is not a departmental responsibility. Everyone plays a part in a quality organisation. Yet unless leadership is driving the implementation of a quality management system across the organisation it is bound to fail. Does your leadership plan to start right?