Although it's difficult to define quality, you often know it when you see it. A quality management system is a set of protocols and procedures aimed at producing the best goods possible and tracking the steps in the process so you can identify difficulties and make improvements.
The purpose of a quality management system is to meet customer seeds, satisfy regulatory requirements and create efficient processes.
The overall purpose of a quality management system is to ensure overall quality, but the body of knowledge reflected in systems such as ISO 9001 breaks this larger purpose into a series of related components.
- Improving processes. Aiming to get the best possible results in the least possible amount of time with minimal mistakes and smooth flow of product through the various phases of production.
- Reducing waste. Waste can come from inefficient use of materials, inefficient use of time and substandard product that must be recalled or remanufactured, among other causes.
- Lowering costs. Efficiency saves money, as does adhering to quality standards so you get things right the first time. There are unlimited ways that a business can save money without cutting corners, and these strategies generally depend on building robust systems and spotting difficulties before they get too expensive.
- Training and improvement. In a dynamic business, processes are always changing as your staff learns better ways of doing things and applies this knowledge toward making better products. This can be accomplished through outside education as well as internal training. Continual improvement doesn't need to be a formalized process at all but can be a willingness and an attitude that looks for opportunities to adjust and adapt.
- Employee engagement. Your employees are the front line in your quality system. Unless they are engaged and interested in their work, they are unlikely to conscientiously follow all the steps necessary to make quality products that satisfy your customers and meet external requirements from regulatory agencies. You can foster employee engagement by building a workplace culture that rewards collaboration and good work.
- Strategic Direction. If the parts of your operation and your quality management system are aligned toward pursuit of a clearly articulated goal, you'll increase your odds of maximizing efficiency, minimizing waste and turning out a quality product. Communicate your big-picture goals clearly and align day-to-day goals with these broader objectives.
A serious quality management system should include a variety of written materials that provide direction and reference. Your company should have a written mission statement that articulates overall goals as well as the ways that your quality management protocols will work toward achieving these objectives.
You should have a quality manual documenting processes specifically geared toward quality control protocols, as well as operations manuals for different phases of your processes. Once production is underway, you should also document daily work by recording relevant data and regularly compiling this information.
Your quality management system should also include feedback strategies. These can include soliciting and recording customer feedback and also listening to feedback from within your organization about ways your processes can improve. These can take the form of formal quality analysis or informal conversations geared toward achieving real results.
Organizations such as the American Society for Quality have developed protocols and training manuals for businesses to use as the basis for their quality management systems. These are sophisticated and thoughtful, but they may be more than a small business like a single-location bakery really needs. You can develop your own quality system with a simple manual and a schedule for collecting and reflecting on data.
Although quality management systems are typically formal and sophisticated endeavors, you can benefit from many of the positive aspects of quality management simply by understanding what is involved in a quality management system and asking the right questions as you evaluate your daily operations. This approach won't give you much formal data, but it will help you to set out on a path toward ongoing improvement.