The Big Three automakers, in implementing QS-9000, sought standardization for a system that depends upon quality assurance to compete in a fierce global market. Ultimately, QS-9000 provides a whole lot more.
Since the introduction of QS-9000 requirements in 1994, organizations that successfully have implemented the system don't define success simply as compliance to a requirement. Yes, they achieve compliance, but that soon becomes a byproduct of the process rather than the central issue. QS-9000 compliance and registration often lead to amazing results.
With successful QS-9000 implementation, companies gain the obvious benefit of consistency. Quality assurance, the lifeblood of a tiered system, is strengthened by shared practices and standards. Consistency then leads to other benefits, such as less rework, scrap, mishandled orders and similar profit-eroding pointlessness. When organizations eliminate redundant requirements, they become more efficient. Organizations also discover that success means liking what they've got. In other words, the internal system required to comply with QS-9000 requirements proves popular with personnel. The system is seen as one that works. Also, success means that companies don't throw away what is unique to their organization or what works for them already.
Five common features characterize successful QS-9000 implementation:
1. Management leads the project. Vocal and visible management provides real leadership rather than just lending its support. Management review serves to check progress and make any necessary changes to the system.
2. Every department is represented. With the necessary time and resources given to it, implementation can become a strategic cross-functional project.
3. QS-9000 is a business management system, not a quality add-on. People learn that QS-9000 is about the way they do business day to day. Reaching certification or compliance represents the first step in a continual move toward total quality.
4. Real people write real documents. Those people who must live with the system use the documentation process to identify best practices and develop work flow improvements.
5. Internal auditing helps make the system better. The audit team is drawn from many functions within the company. The team's main purpose is encouraging continuous improvement, not policing and inspection.
From these characteristics, anyone unfamiliar with QS-9000 can see that people really are the key. A successful implementation uncorks the often underutilized brain power and talent in organizations. People who work in plants often possess skills and potential overlooked by the company that employs them. An effective QS-9000 implementation provides the means to marshal all that creative ability. Invariably, excitement builds as companies reach certification or compliance. A positive shift often occurs in the corporate culture as everyone realizes their contributions count.
Developing a training prototype
If the preceding approach to QS-9000 implementation makes sense to you, then so should a method that permits broad-based participation in that implementation. Organizations that want employees at all levels to think about how they can help improve business operations should provide special training. Employees will need to develop not only new skills and knowledge, but also confidence in how much they already know and their own problem-solving capabilities. When Chrysler, Ford and General Motors created a supplier quality requirements task force, they wanted to develop a training program that could help suppliers build the internal capabilities of their work forces. The task force focused on four primary concerns:
The training content had to accurately reflect the intent of the requirement.
A rigorous trainer certification process must assure consistency and quality.
The program had to be accessible to suppliers throughout North America and, eventually, the world.
The program should represent a low-cost, speedy solution to QS-9000 implementation with a high return.
The program they eventually generated, called the Plexus QS-9000 Training System, was developed by Plexus and reviewed and approved by the Big Three. The system is now co-owned by Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Plexus Corp. of St. Paul, Minnesota. Organizations can use the modular program to address specific aspects of their implementation process. Or they can use it to help maintain their systems, once in place.
The Plexus program follows the same principles as that company's successful ISO 9000 training system. Inherent to the approach is a high regard for individual participants, particularly for their ability to think independently. The positive learning model encourages participation in a nonthreatening way, even with line personnel who are "sent" to training. According to follow-up evaluations, people actually enjoy the learning experience because they participate directly in solving problems in the classroom.
The training system provides consistency through reviewed participant materials, intense trainer/coach training and strict trainer/coach certification standards. Providers located throughout North America deliver the system, which is currently expanding throughout the world. It is available at a relatively low cost because it provides a practical, hands-on approach that gives plant personnel real tasks to accomplish.
Access to Plexus training
Automotive suppliers interested in accessing the training system have three options available to them:
Through a corporate license. If you have internal training capability, consider having someone from your plant go through the five-day QS-9000 Foundation trainer/coach training and, if appropriate, the five-day Core Tools trainer/coach training. With a corporate license, you then can purchase training materials directly from Plexus for on-site delivery and/or delivery to your subtier suppliers.
Through the Plexus network of licensed community colleges, universities and publicly funded training organizations. A Plexus service provider can conduct a needs assessment for you, present the necessary training on your premises or theirs, and return at your request for follow-up coaching.
Through licensed private QS-9000 practitioners and consulting organizations. These firms specialize in training as a key component to their consulting practice. Private service providers also are fully qualified to carry out a needs assessment as well as training and coaching.
Even if you choose to develop your own trainers, you may still want to access the network of public and private service providers at remote plant locations. The training delivery model is flexible and designed to give you many choices.
Broad-based training allows the full potential of an organization to flourish. Such an organization can easily meet the intentions of Element 4.18 as it pertains to QS-9000 implementation. Thoughtful training paves the way for a unique quality management system that achieves compliance with QS-9000, fulfills the intent of the requirement and establishes a foundation for managing change.
About the author
Elizabeth E. Baker is director of quality initiatives at the Automotive Industry Action Group, where she has worked for the past four years. She works directly with the Chrysler, Ford and General Motors Supplier Quality Requirements Task Force. Her responsibilities include the publication, distribution and translation of quality manuals. For more information about AIAG, call (248) 358-3570.
For more information about the Plexus training system, call (888) 753-9871.