Do you find the idea of developing a formal Quality Plan, or Performance Management System, intimidating? All those procedures to be developed, too much paperwork, trying to match what you do with the requirements of the international quality standard, ISO 9000 seems far too hard and not worth the effort.

Well yes, there is some effort, but not as much as you think. And it is worth the effort. Not only do some jobs require you to have some form of quality or performance management system, particularly government tenders, but more importantly developing a Quality Plan provides the basis for continually improving your business.

It does so firstly by recording and documenting what you actually do. In doing so, almost inevitably you will spot opportunities for improvement. And by documenting what you actually do, and following it, the work will be done more consistently, reducing errors and waste. There are always big savings in reducing errors and waste.

Secondly you will start to have some recorded information on what is working, and not working. Information on where things may be breaking down or taking too long. You will have ‘facts' as opposed to ‘opinions', which makes it much easier to change things, and persuade others to change.

One of the biggest hindrances to improving business profitability is lack of data, information and knowledge about what is happening in the business. With a Quality Plan or Performance Management System, you will have that information. Systematising your business is no bad thing.

So let's have a look at what is required, and see whether it is really too difficult, or too intimidating.

What does your business do?

As an overview:

1. Receive an order

2. Check the order (can you do the job? Is the order as per your quote?)

3. Schedule the Job (when will you be available to do it?)

4. Raise a Job Card (how do you record labour, materials, contractors etc?)

5. Order any materials/equipment needed

6. Do the job i.e. your "Operations" - what your business actually does!

7. Check that the job (product or service) is as per the order

8. Sign off the job

9. Raise the Invoice

Operational Procedures

The Quality Standard (ISO 9001: 2001 if you want to be formal) calls this "Product Realisation" - but what it simply is how you turn customer requirements into a finished product or service. There may be only one or two procedures for your Operations, or there may be fifty.

These days you do not have to have a formal layout for a procedure - keep it simple and user friendly. For example "Do the job" may include a series of procedures such as:

CHANGING A FLAT TYRE

Please Note: this only applies to sedan models

1. Ensure the vehicle is stopped in a safe location. You may wish to flag other flag other motorists and engage hazard flashers (see Ch1.Lights and Switches).

2. Etc.

3. Etc.

The Manual

The Quality Standard talks about putting these 'procedures' in a 'Manual'. So you might have a series of Sections such as:

Section 1 - Sales

Section 2 - Operations

Section 3 - Purchasing

Section 4 - Finance and Accounting

Section 5 - Personnel

Section 6 - OH & S

which reflect what you actually do!!

In the front of the Manual you will have a page with a Table which tells people which is the up-to-date Procedure, because they should only be using the one that is current.

Procedure Name

Revision

Date

Location

Approved by:

Changing tyres (sedans)

1

16/06/2004

Section 2.11

Supremo Joe

Changing tyres (4WD)

3

01/09/2004

Section 2.13

Supremo Joe

Hand Washing

2

10/05/2004

Section 6.2

Supremo Joe

Sales Orders

5

24/09/2004

Section 1.3

Supremo Joe

Etc

Document Control - a ‘Procedure'

This is a "mandatory" procedure. There are only six mandatory procedures. Quality requires that you develop a procedure to describe how you ensure that:

  • The procedures that you have issued have been approved by someone authorised to do so.
  • That only the currently approved documents are available for use - if there are two procedures available with the same name which is the latest? Instead of dates you can use Version Numbers.
  • How do you readily identify the procedure you need? The name should do that. You need to use the "Changing a Tyre" procedure", not the "Changing the Oil" procedure. Previously you would have had an alpha-numeric e.g. QAP001.17.
  • You might want to password protect your procedures if they are on the computer so an unauthorised person cannot change them.
  • How do you ensure the procedures are available where they are needed?

There are a few other requirements but this is the essence.

Procedures that ‘Support' Operations

What interfaces with the Operational Procedures you have documented to date?

  • How do you receive and process orders?
  • How do you ensure you have the right suppliers for the job?
  • How do you ensure your suppliers continue to meet your needs?
  • How do you ensure your product/service meets your customer's requirements?
  • To what extent do you meet customer's expectations? This goes beyond 'customer complaints - all degrees of satisfaction including dissatisfaction.

Management Responsibility

Management needs to make sure customers are satisfied not just now but in the future as well. This is where the Quality Plan looks at the Roles and Responsibility of "Top Management" - i.e. the key decision makers in your business. In any small business you wear a number of different hats - one is the hat you wear when you do the job, another is the hat you wear when you make decisions about the business, and not the job!

Your roles, commitments, goals and objectives need to be clear and actioned into the day-to-day business.

This means you need to be aware of the market, rather than the individual orders, to know if you are heading in the right direction. How do you do this? Another procedure - but not mandatory.

This might be backed up by Vision, Mission, Strategic Goals, or a quality policy, as long as it is all MEASURABLE.

You might want to back this up with an Organisational Chart and Job Descriptions.

Resource Management

Once you, as Top Management, are aware of your market and have decided your strategic direction, you need to make sure it will happen, i.e. make sure your plans etc. work in practice. How do you make sure all those procedures in Operations can actually be carried out?

Imagine the procedures being place, the equipment ready to roll, and no trained staff to use it!

Consider how all of the resources required are to be managed and provided, including:

  • Staff (numbers)
  • Skilled staff (training required)
  • Time (so you can meet your contracts as promised)
  • Money
  • Equipment
  • The right working environment
  • Maintenance of equipment and premises etc.

This section could include descriptions of how you manage rosters, training, preventative maintenance, pest control etc - totally specific to how you do things.

So this section links operations (what you do every day) to achieving your goals!

What if something goes wrong?

  • You could wait for customer complaints (or compliments) and of course you will have a procedure for recording them. But why wait for them to tell to tell you - shouldn't you know first?
  • So you will need to monitor your products and processes in a managed way. This is the process of "in-process" and/or "final testing".
  • If you have equipment for testing it might need to be calibrated i.e. make sure it measures accurately.
  • What action do you take if a problem does occur? Quality used to call this "Non-Conforming Products", but you might call it "Seconds, Wastage & Scrap" or something similar. And it is mandatory.
  • How do you record, investigate, take action, fix (and make sure the fix was effective)? Procedures need to be developed for actual problems (Corrective Action) or possible foreseeable problems (Preventative Action). Both of these are mandatory procedures in any Quality Plan.
  • To be on the safe side you might want to check things now and again to be sure they are all being followed by everyone. Internal Audits help you do this (another mandatory procedure I'm afraid).

Measurement, Analysis and Improvement

So the above steps have given you some information about what is, or is not, working for your customers and causing loss of time and money in fixing things.

So the information is fed back to Operations to improve that, but it is also fed back to you as Top Management so you know how everything is going - from to bottom, side to side!

If what is happening is in conflict with your business's goals, objectives or plans - then things need to change. Does the plan need an update, or are the resources allocated correctly? Do the procedures need a review to make sure they deliver what is required?

If this happens, then your business will start to change - but measured change - change that improves.

Control of Records

All this is very well and good, but how do you prove it?

Certain activities need to be recorded. Quality asks for some records, and you might need some yourself to make decisions about the business. Your customers could do so too!

So Quality asks for a (mandatory) procedure to be developed to show:

  • What records do you keep;
  • Who keeps the records
  • And where,
  • For how long

These could be paper records, or on a computer. Some of them might be photographs!

So what does it look like as a diagram?

quality diagram
Standards Australia International describes the system as follows:

The model takes the view that everything to do with quality starts and ends with the customer - so the model is customer driven. In the diagram the customer is shown on both the left and right. Most often it will be the same customer, but it could be a different one.

The main process flow that enables the product and/or service to emerge is shown across the lower part of the diagram - product realisation. (This is really your operations - what you do to meet the customer's needs.)

The model picks up with the discussions and specifications from your customer - what your customer wants. This becomes an input to you quality management system. This input feeds into the product and/or service planning and into its production or service provision.

This box depicts the various activities your business needs to do to make your product and/or provide your service. It becomes the output from your business in the form of product and/or service.

The model highlights the importance of obtaining information on customer satisfaction (the arrow on the right pointing to measurement, analysis and improvement.

This and other measurements and evaluations become vital feedback on your company's performance. These measurement systems are shown in the box titled 'Measurement, Analysis, and Improvement'

The box, Management Responsibility is there to emphasis the need for management to study the results of feedback and other information.

Management Responsibility also covers the need for Managers to set policy, objectives and targets.

Following these there is a need for proper planning. Planning includes the study of your processes and ensuring they are adequately documented. These documents spell out the standard way you want your processes to be done.

Management needs to evaluate resources, which is addressed as the fourth area of activity in your quality management system. You need to ensure you have adequate resources to assure the quality of you product and/or service. Resources include space, equipment, materials and people. You need to ensure that your people are trained and are competent to do the tasks you assign to them.

The data and analysis activities, shown in the box on the right entitled 'Measurement, Analysis, and Improvement' may suggest improvements to the quality management system, as indicated by the arrow pointing to the top box, entitle 'Quality Management System continuous improvement'

At the initiative of top management, potential improvements should also be investigated and appropriately implemented.

So there we have it! You don't have to force your business into lots of difficult boxes. You just have to document what you do, be able to measure what is happening in the business and control things that do go wrong. And of course, keep an up to date record of any changes in how you go about your business.

Now that is no bad thing is it? If you put aside a mindset that the only reason for developing a ‘performance management system', which is what a Quality Plan actually is, you can see that systematising your business is actually good for the business, and for you.

Note: I'm indebted to Standards Australia International for much of the information in this article.

ag05


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