If you are a typical quality professional, you probably think your quality system is about as user-friendly as a tax form. You may be asking yourself, "Am I the only one who is 20 years behind the times?" The answer is no, you're not. Most of your colleagues also are looking for new approaches to quality information sharing, training and systems.
But despite most managers' interest in updating procedures and manuals, many managers don't know what's actually available to them. Fortunately, advances in information gathering have placed countless opportunities at their fingertips. The Internet is brimming with quality systems and ISO 9000 information. These resources as well as training courses are relatively inexpensive and informative.
Effective quality managers recognize the importance of system improvement as a means of meeting their companies' quality objectives and goals. A quality manager's skill base must include a spectrum of knowledge ranging from regulatory standards to compliance requirements, and from product conformity to systems engineering.
A firm grasp of this knowledge enables managers to establish their companies' quality systems on a solid foundation in conjunction with customized programs for their customers' present and future needs. When an organization's quality systems are in sync with its day-to-day operations, it will begin to reap the benefits of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
The best place to begin a quality training tune-up is with journals and periodicals. Quality management magazines feature up-to-date, informative articles showcasing innovative products and services in the marketplace. These magazines' companion Web sites offer the latest quality news and information.
After reviewing quality periodicals, managers should invest some time reading books about quality systems. The classics in the quality field are excellent resources. Essential reading would include the ISO 9000 quality management standard, industry-specific requirements documents such as QS-9000 and AS9000, and countless industry directives. Various books on statistical process control and total quality management as well as process guidebooks, user manuals and research documents all are worthwhile.
One of the most practical approaches written on quality system implementation is Randall's Practical Guide to ISO 9000 (Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1995). It offers a straightforward approach for anyone interested in the finer details of quality system development, particularly the registration process and how it affects a company. The book also helps quality managers focus their energies on long-term development.
Another practical approach is presented in Radley M. Smith's The QS-9000 Answer Book, Second Edition (Paton Press, 1997). It cites a multitude of automotive industry examples and points out various pitfalls to avoid in establishing a quality system.
Managers also would find their time well-spent browsing the list of quality books found at the Web site www .quality.org/html/bookstore.html, which is The Online Quality Resources Bookstore. In association with Amazon.com, this site lists books by topic headings and includes "Quality Book of the Week" and new quality books.
The American Society for Quality offers a number of computer-based learning programs, among them a recently released series for individuals interested in the Certified Quality Manager program. This program features state-of-the-art instructional subjects that simulate ASQ's CQMgr. examination. Even if you're not interested in the certificate, successfully completing the program of instruction will earn you four continuing education units.
The Internet represents a veritable gold mine of exploitable training resources and related information. Registrars' and consultants' Web sites can set you on a cyber trail leading to page after page of quality information. A couple of good starting sites are the Continuous Quality Improvement Server of Clemson University at deming.eng.clemson.edu and the American Society for Quality at www.asq.org.
Training videos are another way to provide professional instruction without the headache and costs of formal classroom instruction. Simple introductory courses can provide employees with a basic understanding of the ISO 9000 and QS-9000 requirements and can help encourage employee buy-in. More advanced videos cover such subjects as document control or the fine points of internal auditing. Many include study guides or pre- and post-tests to assess users' mastery of the subjects.
The International Forum for Management Systems Inc. has a reliable selection of training videos for business leaders and quality professionals. Among the best is INFORM's Employee Introduction to ISO 9000 or its Management Overview. Stat-a-Matrix, a leading training organization based in Edison, New Jersey, offers employee-awareness programs that can be completed in two-hour sessions facilitated by an organization's supervisors or training personnel.
Another option is producing a company video. An excellent resource for more information is a cable-access channel studio. These companies must dedicate one channel exclusively to local enterprises. Often the studios come with first-rate equipment for filming and editing. In many cases, studios will make on-site visits to film and record commentary. Companies can feature their own personnel as actors, taking employee involvement to new levels.
Conferences and workshops
If group settings and face-to-face interaction appeal, look into the opportunities available at conferences, workshops or quality consortiums.
A number of organizations offer reasonably priced workshops sponsored by the local technical college or chamber of commerce and led by a quality consulting firm. Workshops usually meet once or twice a month with representatives from about 10 companies. The instructional formats emphasize self-learning, with guidance and assistance from a support group. Most participants take the courses to prepare for ISO 9000 or QS-9000 registration.
Class groups often remain active after achieving registration, evolving into ad hoc forums for exchanging ideas about continuous improvement and the latest technology.
One such organization is Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. WPI's ISO 9000 Partnership course offers small to medium-size companies a standard review of the process and documentation leading to ISO 9000 registration. Learning centers such as WPI provide convenient and flexible class schedules at an affordable price.
Formal training courses
Whether you are a management systems director for a Fortune 500 company or a quality control representative for the local pizza shop, someone on your staff most likely will be interested in a formal training course. These provide the necessary knowledge and skills in a more structured format. Courses could entail anything from a one-day ISO 14001 management review to a 36-hour lead auditor training program. Student interaction combined with real-world experience make these courses worth the extra time and expense. Companies that invest in formal employee training save money in the long run by averting inefficient operations or redundant documentation.
Stat-a-Matrix provides a wide range of training and consulting activities, both on- and off-site, led by experienced instructors who explain the material through practical, hands-on scenarios.
When shopping around for formal courses, keep in mind the following:
It's important to know what level of information you want ahead of time, be it introductory, executive or subject-specific. Courses accredited by the Registrar Accreditation Board or the International Register of Certified Auditors are recommended.
Most courses require mandatory evening study and/or activities in order to pass the two- to four-hour final exam.
Certification and advanced degrees
In the ever-changing field of auditor/manager certification, worldwide recognition of a company's quality system registration depends on the performance and integrity of all the personnel involved. Other important factors are the reputation of the registrar and its auditors, and international recognition of a company's certification. Attaining certification through a reputable certification body will ensure that an auditor's credentials are recognized internationally.
Universities and local community colleges offer degrees in quality management. Loyola University in New Orleans offers a master's degree in quality management. Using flexible instructional techniques, the university allows students to complete the program in three years while working full-time. This flexibility encourages students to apply their knowledge to projects at work while earning their degrees.
Northeastern University in Boston has been offering management systems courses for more than five years. The courses cover a wide range of standards and industries, and most are taught by experienced instructors committed to helping their students develop and implement cost-effective management systems.
As this discussion indicates, quality training can range from 15-minute introductory videos to master's degrees in quality systems. However, it's important to keep in mind that none of these programs can reform an organization's quality system single-handedly. Choose wisely.
Internet training is easy and affordable, but will the information apply to your company and improve day-to-day processes? Satellite training will increase in popularity, but will the course load coupled with a full-time job prove overwhelming? Paperless quality systems feature easy data entry, information filtering, chart customization and rapid analysis but include the caveat "some training required."
To support their companies' quality policies, managers must develop clearly defined training objectives that are understood throughout their organizations. They must review the learning opportunities available and select the venue that best helps them create cost-effective, comprehensive systems and quality teams to support them. Continuous training will steer managers and personnel toward their goals and help them meet their customers' needs and expectations.
About the author
Arlen D. Chapman is quality systems director at National Quality Assurance, USA, and an RAB-certified lead auditor with 15 years' experience in quality systems. He is responsible for implementing quality systems and managing certification processes.
Chapman recently added business development to his responsibilities and is project manager of several multisite registration projects. He can be reached at fax (978) 263-0785 or e-mail at achapman @qualitydigest.com.