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Mike Roberts

Quality Insider

Why Some Quality Management Strategies Just Aren’t Working

Do the words ‘executive buy-in’ mean something in your company?

Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 09:39


A considerable number of executives today still struggle to make quality a top priority. Based on a survey of more than 300 executives, barely 50 percent of companies in large and mature industries currently make quality a top priority. In fact, for some industries such as food and pharmaceuticals, the percentage of companies that rate quality as a top objective is below 50 percent.

In manufacturing and industrial environments, quality is essential for survival (aka long-term viability and profitability). If you’re not monitoring and continuously searching for ways to improve the quality of your products or services, you’re going to fall by the wayside. Market leaders are only too aware of this. That being said, though, there still seems to be a steady flow of recalls and other quality issues throughout the world. Why is that?

At LNS Research, our data show that quality management software adoption has been increasing in recent years. With its ability to centralize, standardize, and streamline quality data, it offers companies a holistic tool for managing quality across the value chain. But quality management is more than technology and automating processes. As noted by our Model of Operational Excellence, it’s just as much about people and leadership.

Quality management as an executive priority

Our 2012 Quality Management Survey asked a number of questions pertaining to quality as it relates to people, processes, and technology. One data point of note concerns a question about executive priorities. As seen in the chart in figure 1 below, a majority of executives say that quality management is currently a top executive priority. This sampling is from industries where product quality and safety are imperative for success.


Figure 1: Quality as a top executive priority. Click here for a larger image.

Of particular concern here is the number of executives that do not say quality is a top priority. Even those who plan to make it a top priority are still behind the curve. Plans are by no means the same as a solid implementation, and many leaders have experienced how ineffective a quality management program can be without organizational backing, especially one that does not start at the top.

Getting the most out of quality management

When quality isn’t an executive focus, there tends to be disparate dedication to, and strategies for, managing it. As a result, improvements and initiatives can become localized to specific plants or departments rather than enterprisewide. This becomes even more of an issue when an organization has hundreds of distributed facilities across the globe. The absence of unity around quality management is a main culprit in adulterated products and adverse events.

Quality management strategy requires strong leadership to set the precedent for the rest of the company. Even with some of the most effective technologies and efficient processes, without top-level buy-in that supports, promotes, and practices quality, it’s nearly impossible to optimize these resources. It’s most often a quality culture driven by the CEO or chief quality officer (CQO) that gets the rest of the company to put quality as a top-of-mind issue.

Executive elements for a strong quality culture

A main goal for quality management programs is to have every employee considering how his actions and decisions will affect the overall quality of his own processes as well as those throughout the facility and the company as a whole. Support from the board of directors, in collaboration with the CQO, CEO, and other executives, is critical for catalyzing cultural change and movement toward this enterprisewide mindset. The board of directors and high-level corporate management can take the following important steps toward this end:

Board of directors
• Make quality management a focus point of every board meeting.
• Stay current on quality trends, emerging technologies, and regulations.
• Establish or enhance a learning center for quality education courses, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and instructions.
• Remain visible by walking around plants, attending both community and industry meetings.
• Make metrics such as cost of quality and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) a top-level issue.

Chief quality officer, CEO, and other executives
• Use both internal and third-party quality audits to assess and prioritize areas for improvement.
• Create an internal marketing plan around quality management for employees.
• Develop a plan for internal education, process improvements, and capital investments.
• Make reporting on metrics and plans for improvement a regular task for managers.
• Use rewards-based performance programs for quality improvements.

How executive focus resonates with managers and workers

Although the board of directors and executives may lay a foundation for a quality management program, managers play a central role in its success as well. On the shop floor, for instance, managerial actions stand as an example for how quality management should be practiced. If managers are doing things like following SOPs, wearing safety goggles, and openly discussing how their decisions will affect the quality of processes and products, then workers will be more likely to exhibit this type of behavior.

Ideally, once a quality program is in full motion, workers shouldn’t feel as if they’re just another cog in the wheel. They should have independent ideas and suggestions that they can express on the topic. Only after a sense of ownership has been established on the shop floor will the benefits of the quality management initiative be experienced at an enterprise level.

Act locally, benefit globally

Last week we had the chance to speak with an executive responsible for both quality and software configuration management. Coming into his role not long ago, he saw a similar issue with disparate quality management programs. Groups in the company were taking steps to improve quality, but the improvements were siloed. What was interesting about this conversation was that the executive was in favor of keeping quality management responsibilities localized, but he understood the importance for an organizational, high-level change.

By taking actions such as reorganizing the structure of his quality organization, standardizing SOPs, developing educational resources, and implementing a required metrics program, he created an environment for managers and workers to optimize quality within their plants. Basically, backed by executive buy-in, he enabled plants with the needed resources for success and also decentralized quality management. His theory was that a local success would translate to global success.

In future quantitative and qualitative research, LNS will continue to examine the specific benefits of executive focus on quality and the shortcomings when such a focus is absent.


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About The Author

Mike Roberts’s picture

Mike Roberts

Mike Roberts is a research associate with LNS Research based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. LNS Research provides executives a platform for accessing unbiased research and benchmark data to improve business performance. Roberts writes research papers, case studies, and contributes regularly to the LNS Research blog, where he covers topics including enterprise quality management software, manufacturing operations management, asset performance management, sustainability, and industrial automation 2.0.