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Robert Napoletano

Supply Chain

New ASQ Certification Adds Focus for Quality Professionals and Others

Communication with your suppliers will help ensure their success and yours

Published: Monday, November 28, 2016 - 13:44

ASQ has recently offered a new certification, Certified Supplier Quality Professional, specifically for those quality professionals dealing with suppliers. Who are these professionals? Most often the “who” depends on the size of the company.

Sometimes, in a smaller company, it’s the quality manager who likely handles all of the quality processes. Sometimes it might be “the” (as in one and only) quality engineer, and sometimes, in larger companies, it may be a department of quality engineers that are dedicated to dealing with supply chain issues.

The contents of the body of knowledge can and should be used by everyone in the organization who is tasked with dealing with suppliers. The body of knowledge identifies the things any of these individuals need to know in order to have a successful supplier management program.

When this new certification crossed my desk my first thought was “you must have good suppliers if your business is to succeed.” To me this is just a matter of common sense, but common sense doesn’t always prevail. Your success and the success of your suppliers are very much intertwined. In order to ensure that success, you need to make sure your suppliers have a realistic chance of satisfying your needs. They need to know your rules and they may well need some help to implement all the things you need to have them do. There are a lot of factors that must to be taken into account when selecting and managing suppliers. First and foremost your suppliers must be your business partner and it becomes your responsibility as the supplier quality professional to make that happen. For this to take place there must be clear and uninterruptible lines of communication.

The primary points of contact for your supply partner will be someone from purchasing and someone from quality. The supplier’s advocate in your company will likely be the quality contact. The role for the person from purchasing is to make sure parts get to the point of use on time. And then there is always the struggle about price. None of this matters if the quality of the part does not meet the requirements.

To be a good partner your suppliers need to understand how they fit in your business. The short list of important items:
• Performance metrics: on-time-delivery and quality performance. How are they calculated, and how often will they be reported?
 Supplier corrective action requests: What are the rules? Do you expect them to use your process and forms, or have you reviewed their process and forms and feel they will work for you? Would you write a supplier corrective action request for every defect you find, or are there some other factors taken into account before you write one?
 When you need a new product or part: What are the expectations? Do you follow the automotive industry’s advanced product quality planning process, and what level do you expect? Are you sure your suppliers understand what this is and how to compile the right information for you?
Return policy: How is this typically managed? Do you expect them to pay for return shipping? How quickly do you expect replacements or the return of reworked material?
 Debit and credit policy for defective parts: Will you just debit them or expect a credit for the value of the parts, or are there some additional fees that are expected? How about rework or sorting costs?

All of this and much more depends on unconstrained communication, and this needs to be two-way communication. Beyond making sure your suppliers understand that their duties go beyond just supplying parts, they need to understand how your business operates. Consider communicating and negotiating your expectations and requirements during the initial onboarding process. Working on great communication with your suppliers will help ensure their success and yours.

The body of knowledge for the ASQ certification gets into these supplier issues and a number of other issues in pretty good detail. The body of knowledge is divided into the following seven sections.

I. Supplier strategy

This includes defining the how and why of using and setting up suppliers:
• Define the use of suppliers.
• Company’s vision and mission for this process
• Supplier selection
• How to monitor performance
• How partnerships are developed
• Dealing with cost issues
• Reducing risk
• Development of purchasing agreements and contracts, terms, and conditions

This area helps with creating the overall strategy for how you will work with outside suppliers. Many companies focus primarily on cost, but that’s typically just the part or assembly cost and doesn’t include other costs for developing partnerships, communication, travel, or what happens when the supply chain breaks down.

II. Risk management

How do you plan to minimize the risks inherent to using a supplier? When you farm it out you lose some control over doing it yourself. There are a lot of good reasons to use a supplier, but you need to understand what the risks are and how to mitigate them. You also need to think about how to minimize the risks to your supplier.

Items to consider are:
• Maintain business continuity
• Develop a risk-based approach: Use risk-based thinking for managing quality-related processes.
• Use of common quality tools
• Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of your risk management process.
• Tools you want your suppliers to use

III. Supplier selection and part qualification

Collaboration with suppliers is imperative to ensure that definitions and interpretations are clear.

The part approval process may look very much like the automotive industry’s production part approval process or some portion of it. In the selection process you need to ensure that the supplier understands your needs. Get your suppliers to contribute to the requirements of your parts and assemblies. This works to both parties’ advantage. They are the experts in making what you need, even when it’s your design. They should be a collaborator.

You should consider:
• The supplier selection process, including whether they have the technology and resources to provide what you need
• Assessment of potential suppliers. Do they line up with what they advertise?
• Clearly define requirements
• Design reviews
• Defining critical-to-quality steps
• Technical reviews and collaboration with suppliers

Including the supplier in these processes helps to overcome the problems common to the mind-set: “I could make that better, faster, cheaper if... ”

IV. Supplier performance monitoring and improvement

Suppliers need to know how they are doing. They need that periodic performance reviews just like you do. Even if everything is going well, let them know.

Items to consider:
• Performance monitoring
• Development of metrics
• Quality and on-time delivery
• Cost over time
• Improvement ideas
• Responsiveness
• Scorecard
• Apply lean principles
• Manage nonconforming material
• Have an effective corrective and preventive action process

Collaborate with the supplier. Let them know how they are doing, what you would like or need to see them improve, and let them know you are willing to help them get to where you need them to be. If you are profitable they will be too.

V. Supplier quality management

Managing suppliers must go beyond just looking at the quality and delivery aspects of what they are providing. What is the rest of their business like, and what improvements are they achieving?

Here are a few other things for consideration:
• Conduct an initial assessment with an audit
• Periodic audits: Many companies do the initial audit and never go back.
• Audits can help with continuous improvement.
• Audits can focus on the product, process, or management system, or some combination of these.
• Audits need proper planning.
• Use only qualified auditors
• Communication, communication, communication. Don’t let anything go to chance. Communicate!
• Use teams, especially between your two companies.
• Ensure regulation compliance.

Do your supplier’s use the tools that you think are right and do they use the tools correctly?
All of this helps your suppliers be a better partner.

VI. Relationship management

Everything discussed so far must be used to promote a better relationship, so make sure you remove any of the finger pointing and name calling. You want a partner to make your company better not someone you “just have to deal with.” Suppliers that provide critical components are likely to need more oversight and help to ensure requirements are met, more so than those suppliers that provide commercial or off-the-shelf components. So, use your resources wisely and spend the time with the right supplier.

VII. Business governance, ethics, and compliance

Make sure you abide by all regulations and comply with all the rules that apply to your business. At a professional level the ASQ Code of Conduct is a must to pay attention to. Don’t let a failure here ruin a good supplier relationship or maybe even your career.

To build a good relationship, consider:
• A code of ethics laid out by your business and the ASQ code
• When dealing with outside sources, make sure you abide by applicable local, state, and federal laws, and don’t forget foreign country rules and customs.
• Guard confidentiality.
• Protect intellectual property—yours and theirs.
• Nondisclosure agreements help when sharing proprietary information.


This touches on the key points of the body of knowledge for ASQ’s Certified Supplier Quality Professional certification, and it should give anyone who is a part of this process—or has an interest in the process—a glimpse into the breadth of what supplier quality encompasses.

Communication is a large part of ensuring that you and your supplier are on the same page. Find the right techniques to communicate and use those techniques. This is a very high level look at managing the supply base from a quality perspective. Experience has shown that most companies focus on cost issues and much of the rest of managing suppliers is given a cursory touch if considered at all. However, everyone involved in the procurement process should understand the body of knowledge for this certification so a higher level of success can be achieved and maintained. Not just the traditional quality folks that deal with supplier quality but the purchasing group, the engineering group and in some cases the production or manufacturing group. A good working knowledge of this body of knowledge and implementing its core tenants will help all that are involved in dealing with suppliers understand the whole process of selection, development and long term management of those companies who will help make your company successful. This all works towards having a partner you can count on to make and keep your company a success.


About The Author

Robert Napoletano’s picture

Robert Napoletano

Robert Napoletano, a supplier quality engineer at New York Air Brake, is a senior member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). He holds ASQ certifications as manager of quality/operational excellence, quality auditor, and continuous improvement associate. Napoletano has been a member of the Binghamton section of ASQ since 1980 and has held the office of chair, vice chair, and treasurer. He has worked as quality manager in several industries including electronics, metals fabrication, plastics injection molding, and fabrication of gasket and flooring materials.