On one hand, a quality management system or QMS sounds like a sterile, standards-based construct: a checklist of things that need to be done. Where’s the value added with all of the procedures and paperwork?
But the other hand has the true story: a QMS gives enough structure and support to disparate individuals so that, despite all odds, they can function efficiently as a unified group. They can achieve a common goal without excessive do-overs; they are more likely to “get it right” each and every time.
Considering the typical breadth of experience, background, motivation, and ethical perspective that any random group of co-workers might possess, management direction is clearly essential to an organization. But that alone is not sufficient to create and sustain effective, efficient operations. Whether an organization is profit driven or not, whether it builds widgets, crunches numbers, improves health or conveys knowledge, it stands to gain from a strong QMS. Such a system ensures that the predictable variability inherent in human beings doesn’t translate to variable quality in the product, service, or function provided by the organization. There is no value added in creating a new process every day/week/month for routine activities. In fact, creating a new process each time often leads to unhappy surprises. (“Oops, I meant to do that, but I forgot.”) Less variability means more predictable, expected outcomes—consistent high quality. Fewer do-overs mean more satisfied or even delighted customers, achieved in the most efficient manner possible.
Putting a QMS in place is hard work; it’s also just the first step. Some staff may have suggestions for improvements. Maybe some even have strong opinions that things were “better before.” There might be an opportunity for improvement, and sometimes it may make sense to pursue the improvement. When does the opportunity warrant the effort to make a change? After all, changing a system uses valuable resources. Change for change’s sake is no way to do business; the loudest or most articulate voice should not necessarily prevail. Not to worry: the QMS is here to help. Every model for a QMS includes a key concept of using data to make decisions about when and whether improvements are warranted. And each model includes a systematic improvement process to verify that changes result in a better outcome. So the QMS supports objective decision making, which is much easier to understand and explain than the alternatives.
Quality management systems are not just for manufacturers or service providers. Regardless of your organization’s niche, there is a QMS model that fits its purpose. Funnel human creativity to the places in your operation where broad thinking and unique approaches will help, and standardize the routine activities where creativity won’t help. Establish a consistent way of doing business, such that your customers can expect—and enjoy—high quality the first time, and every time. Arbitrary decision making be gone! Let the data speak for itself, and experience the freedom and power of a QMS.
Tammy M. Pelnik is president of the St. Vrain Group, Inc., which specializes in management and technology consulting. Pelnik also sits on the AAMI Board of Directors.