Practice Makes Perfect: Quality Management System Best Practices

Employing a quality management system, like any other effort undertaken by a manufacturing organization, can pass or fail…or have mixed results (let’s face it, any and everything can happen in this crazy world of manufacturing)…and the reasons these efforts are sometimes less than stellar, less than successful, are manifold. I would venture to say that many companies do not achieve success in their quality endeavors because folks just aren’t sure exactly how to go about it. There’s never really been any kind of an instruction manual for improving quality in your company.
 
I hate seeing companies embark on a quality management system project and either fail or fall short of their expectations simply because they weren’t sure exactly what they should do at a given time throughout the life of the project. Despite there being no instruction manual to guide you, you can make your quality project a success, see improvement throughout your processes and in your final products—and even up and down your supply chain—if you follow a few of what I call “quality management system best practices.”
Quality Management on the Shop Floor

Practice Makes Perfect…or Very Close

So, when we at InfinityQS talk about best practices for quality management systems, we’re talking about five things:
  • Taking a step back
  • Knowing your goals
  • Starting small
  • Thinking “standardization”
  • Treating it like it’s a process
These five mainstays of what I consider to be best practices for quality management systems are all inter-connected, as you might have guessed. Let’s walk through each one individually, discuss them in a bit of detail, and highlight how they’re connected. 
 
One caveat: I’ll be talking about our products, ProFicient and Enact®, of course, because that’s what I know…because they’re great examples of quality management systems that work well, and because these best practices hold true for both products; however, I may site one or the other at any given time to elucidate my point.
Shop Floor Quality Control

Stepping Back

There’s a mindset we all get into: when something works, we tend to duplicate it…copy and paste, if you will. It’s hard for folks to avoid, or better yet never engage in, since this mindset is just so very common and natural. I mean, look at professional sports—another industry where a lot of money is on the line all the time—when something works, everyone copies it! It’s kind of what we all just do. What I mean by stepping back is this: we need to re-evaluate that copy and paste mindset. Allow me to explain.
 
Copying and pasting is obviously not always a bad thing. But we designed Enact to combat that mindset. This is a cloud-native application—built in the cloud, and for the cloud. The way Enact works enables lots of re-use. There’s no need for copying and pasting.
 
Here at InfinityQS, we often repeat the phrase: “Enact was designed for the enterprise.” By “enterprise” I mean any business of any size: from large, global companies to small, single-site manufacturing entities. For Enact’s purposes, “enterprise” truly refers to the word’s definition (a company organized for commercial purposes; a business firm), not necessarily the inferred global colossus we all seem to mean when we say “enterprise” (thanks, Star Trek—now beam me up!).
 
Also, when I say Enact was designed for the enterprise, I mean from the ground up. There are a few things about Enact that indicate its unique fit with the enterprise: the process model and the data repository.
 

Process Model

A very important aspect of what makes Enact “designed for the enterprise,” is something that is truly unique: the process model. I have written at length about the process model, most recently in my blog, The Joys of a Process Model.

In that piece, I discuss:
How it allows you to build things out in step-by-step fashion (which is convenient), the fact that it’s expandable, helps you error-proof your processes, and centralizes and simplifies the ways in which you manage your operations. We designed Enact’s process model functionality to greatly benefit end-users, and that is a major part of the game in today’s software world.
Enact Process Model
The process model is a great example of how our software enables you to take that step back, away from copy and paste. When you map out your entire process in a process model, you not only communicate with every facet of your production, but you also see your production from a bird’s eye view. This enables you to discuss, plan, and then implement where you will collect data and why, and communicate with each other how you will refer to the various components of your operation (or standardization, more on that later).
 

Data Repository

InfinityQS quality management systems give you the ability to look at data across your entire enterprise in its summary form (in aggregate)--this is critical. It enables your quality pros to “mine” the data and uncover the greatest opportunities for improvements in your operations. The unified data repository is at the center of almost all the transformative benefits you can glean from our quality management software systems.
 
In your average manufacturing environment, there are lots of machines and data collection devices, each speaking its own unique language. Our quality management software “hears” what each device is saying, translates it into a common language (or format), and stores everything in one place.
 
Then, when it comes time to put it all together, all that data from across your enterprise is easily rolled up and summarized—ready to become information that you can use to improve business performance. And that should be one of your goals. Coincidentally, aggregating data is also sort of taking a step back, because—just like taking a step back to take a group photograph and include everyone in your extended family (even Uncle Phil, who insists on standing waaaaay off to the side in every photo)—aggregating your data enables you to obtain the big picture view of your data. And the big picture view leads to transformative decision-making.
Assembly Line Quality Control

Knowing Your Goals

When I say “goal,” I want you to think in terms of value. It’s always difficult to implement a quality system (or do anything else for that matter) on a tight timeline—for example, because there was a customer audit and they “suggested” you put something in place…so you’re putting something in place! While this is a common and understandable knee-jerk reaction, it’s also easy to try to skip straight to the “doing” part of the implementation. Think proactively, think about the value that a quality management system can bring to your operations.
 
Knee-jerk reactions generally don’t garner much benefit. A quality management system implemented with a goal in mind does. Here’s my idea of a good manufacturing quality goal focused on value: I want to implement a quality management system so that we can improve all our processes (statistical process control (SPC), anyone?), manufacture better products (defect reduction!), and make our customers happy (brand protection, no recalls, less rework!). That’s value, it’s all-encompassing, it’s company-wide. It’s a mission. Let’s get specific…
 

Starting Out Small

There’s a very good reason to start out small with your quality management system: success. Fulfill your goal.
Enact Deployment 
What we’re talking about when we refer to “starting out small” is the first 30 days of your deployment. This is make-or-break time for your system. Either you have results and are allowed to continue, or you do not have results and the project dies. You can’t let it die. That’s why the first 30 days are crucial. If you’re starting small, you should be able to show value in the first 30 days, especially with a cloud-based system like Enact. If you can’t do it in less than 30 days, then your scope is likely too big.
 
From my Ideal Enact Software Deployment blog:
We want you to start your Enact experience [and, honestly, this applies to any quality management system] with a simple, straightforward (pilot) process that you know can yield results in just a few weeks.

The result is that this return on your investment will turn the heads of the powers-that-be, which will in turn help fund the next step. In order to ensure your future success, you need to see all aspects of the system, from data collection through reporting. Because when you then scale up—and include another line, or another product-- when you’ve essentially “seen the software in action,” you’ll know exactly where to turn next.
 

Where to Start

We suggest you pick a specific production line, or family of products, something small that you know needs attention…and start with that. In my experience, many people focus on just collecting data. And they don’t start small. They try to build out their data collection across everything. The biggest challenge with this is that reporting, notifications, etc. haven’t been exercised and you will likely end up with insights that will tell you, “If I had to do this again, I’d do…” Let’s avoid those hindsight moments. Exercise the entire system on a smaller scale and you’ll have a much better overall result.
 
Think about that goal, the key result you’re trying to achieve: improve your products and your bottom line. Things like reducing scrap, rework, giveaway, and defects can have a quick, significant impact. I suggest focusing on something like incorporating manual data collection. Really keep it simple. The point here is to collect the right data and then start using that data at different levels (operators, supervisors, managers, etc.).
Standardization

Standardization

I covered the importance of standardization in some detail in a two-part blog series a while back. Please feel free to peruse that if you have the time and you want the nuts and bolts. To summarize:
  • In manufacturing, standardization is a good thing
  • Enact rewards standardization
  • Standardizing leads to important conversations with the entire staff—conversations that otherwise do not happen
  • Standardizing makes deployment a breeze
  • A standardized system is easier to maintain
  • Standardizing increases visibility into your processes
  • And standardizing capitalizes on the power of the cloud
 
Part two of the standardization series refers back to an experience I had with two companies and how differently they handled system deployment—one company embraced standardization, the other not so much—and the results of each approach.
 

From the blog:

Company A deployed a very standardized system. They were also adamant about communicating what the plan was. Essentially, they told their employees, “This is what we’re building, and this is what you’re going to get at the site.” Despite employees’ grumblings, the company didn’t waver and pushed forward.
 
The end result of this was that they were able to deploy at approximately 80 sites in 18 months. How were they able to deploy on such a large scale over such a short period of time? Standardization.
 
Company B approached their deployment a bit differently. Since they had facilities in the US and Europe, there were many different practices at sites acquired over time. One specific issue that came up was “Do we use the metric system for everything?” Unfortunately, they didn’t standardize and when they ran reports for the entire company, they had results in multiple units.
 
If you extrapolate that over multiple measurements, for multiple products, you can see what a plate of spaghetti that turns out to be.

I concluded the blog with this thought:
The best results for enterprise-wide reporting will always come from a standardized system. It makes deployment easier; it makes reporting better; and it enables you to make better decisions.
Quality Management on the Shop Floor 

View All This as a Process

In one simple phrase, I would say that all this—stepping back, knowing your goals, standardizing, and starting small—it’s all part of a process. These best practices comprise a process designed to get you from worrying about quality issues and constantly putting out fires to easily managing your quality and viewing quality as an asset, a differentiator  that sets you apart from the competition.
 

Quick Summary

To close, let’s look at this process in summary form. The beginning of the process, as I mentioned earlier, is stepping back. Only in stepping back can you get the “big picture” view you need in order to make truly transformative changes to your organization, so prepare yourself and set that expectation in your mind.
 
Setting, knowing, and communicating your goals—once you’ve got that big picture view—is critical to getting everyone on board and working toward the same result.
 
When you communicate with all the facets of your production, it’s easier to standardize. Standardizing makes talking about your processes, implementing a quality management system, scaling, and reporting so much easier.
 
And starting small enables you to a) learn the system quickly, b) have a quick win, c) get buy-in from key contributors, and d) scale up to eventually include your entire operation—securing quality benefits for your organization and transforming it into a well-oiled, efficient quality machine.
 
 
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.
 
Eric Weisbrod
By Eric Weisbrod
Vice President, Product Management
See Full Bio

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