Iso9000 — quality management and the quick drop in the economy

Iso9000 — Quality Management and the Quick Drop in the Economy

You may have read the title of this article as being relevant to the introduction of the new ISO 900 standard [ISO9001:2008], whereas the intention is to try to protect the integrity of audit and quality management in a time of economic downturn.

While business is prospering there is always a tendency to over populate an organisation, or put another way to find reasons to support activities that might otherwise be considered to be of doubtful value. I guess there may be readers who respond with ‘if only’, but regardless of any specific meanness of spirit by specific management teams, the generality of the assertion remains true. But then come the lean times, whether general as now, or organisation specific. Ignoring the unfortunates who simply go out of business, the normal response of management faced with reduced business is to reduce costs.

Unfortunately the simplest costs to recognise and decrease rarely achieve the objective of improving the business performance. Staff cutbacks result in decreased output, but the overhead expenses don’t change. Travel, for those who remain employed is severely cut back, so sales and marketing efforts are reduced just as more, not less, orders are needed. And then there is the selection of staff to ‘let go’. Here my concern is for the impact on the organisation’s performance and reputation through the reduction of staff loosely defined as ‘Quality function’ people.

For many if not the majority of organisations the Quality function is percieved as a required overhead. Overhead because it doesn’t produce anything tangible, while being seen to hemorrhage money that could be used more profitably, and is at the same time required because of its perceived value in the retention of a registration believed to have significant marketing value. While in part these perceptions are true, as ever they are only partly so, and are so because of a lack of management interest in changing the manner in which the business is structured.

These times of economic downturn could be the time for a management team to grasp the nettle of change to rethink and permanently alter its attitude to quality management and its own responsibilities. There is no reason for any organisation to have either a Quality department, or a Head of Quality and the costs that go with it, unless they actually want to do so for their own corporate reasons. Ask any executive why they have a senior manager for Quality, and almost always the response will include considerations on ISO9001 retention, internal audit, and customer interface difficulties. What they mean is they don’t understand ISO9001, and over time the Quality function has taken on responsibilities from other functions and become semi-indispensible, often acting as a local guardian of what itself believes to be the company interest. So what could we do differently?

Quality, meaning doing things well — is surely the responsibility of all managers a business. In a manufacturing unit the managers of manufacturing don’t claim to be ‘not responsible’ for the quality of their products. Similarly ‘procurement responsibility’ includes buying the right items of acceptable quality. For both of these, as for others in the organisation it is common to find the Quality function interfering with both the operation and the authority of local managers. So what can be done to improve this administrative and cost anomaly, without prejudice to the operation and its outward appearance?

The solution is simple. Discard any Quality department that relates to my typical case, managers, staff and position in the organisation’s hierarchy structure. Transfer any technical staff masquerading as Quality Engineers to the functions they purport to serve and ensure that the receiving managers understand their new role and responsibilities as being totally responsible for the performance of their unit of business. They have the staff they have the responsibility.

There remains only the basic role of a quality function — the administration of the registered management system. A suitable description of this might be Systems Integrity. It is not necessary to have a manager for this activity, neither is it a full time task. Only Internal Audit remains, and for this the clear answer is to devolve responsibility for that to those competent to deliver results acceptable to the business managers.

Outsourcing the internal audit provides an effective method of generating useful audit outcomes, and a cost lower than any similarly competent local staff could deliver, and free of local bias or distraction.

A good question to ask — «would I have a Quality department’ manager and staff if I was starting this company again with my own money»? For me the answer is NO!

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