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  Quality Software Reviews

Also reviewed:
Performance Now! 3.0

ISO 9000 Quality Records Management
Q-Pulse 3.16

by Jeff Kempton

Valid or not, a frequently heard criticism of ISO 9000 is that it requires extensive record keeping. You might be tempted to create your own ISO 9000 record management system to reduce this record-keeping burden. And, if you're an accomplished database developer, you may have success.

However, if you're in the market for a top-quality, secure, well-organized, user-friendly and affordable off-the-shelf package, look carefully at Q-Pulse. Initially developed for the European market by U.K.-based Gael Quality and exclusively distributed in the United States by Quality America, Q-Pulse offers a Windows-compatible software package for ISO 9000 record management and business improvement.

Designed for stand-alone or network use, the program has an easy-to-use main menu that contains buttons for each module: Auditing, Customer Database, Document Control, Nonconformance, Corrective and Preventive Action, Performance and Cost Review, Quality Costs Review, Supplier Control, Training Records, Workload and Equipment Control.

The program chiefly benefits users by linking data for subsequent reporting, follow-up and review. You can record nonconformances and link them to departments, customers or suppliers as well as to documents, procedures and people. This makes follow-up and resolution tracking much simpler, and maintains data consistency.

Viewing documents, as well as using the software's administration or e-mail modules, doesn't require user licenses. Thus, an unlimited number of people can view your quality documents or work with the administration or e-mail modules. Nice.

Anyone implementing ISO 9000 knows how quickly drafts, revisions, memos, corrective action reports and other documentation pile up on your desk and crowd your co-workers' in-boxes. Q-Pulse's Document Control and Nonconformance modules effectively eliminate printed documentation, track changes, organize your work effort and maintain accountability.

For example, the Document Control module lets you create relationships between documents, departments and ISO 9000 sections. Update authority, approval authority and distribution lists enable you to conduct document reviews, approvals, version control and user access online. The Nonconformance module's fields identify parties responsible for raising, fixing and approving nonconformances, a feature that makes tracking easier. The program's e-mail capabilities virtually eliminate the hassles of audit, document review, calibration, nonconformance and training reminders. Reminders can be set up to notify responsible parties automatically of upcoming events such as audits due, calibrations required or nonconformance corrective action target dates.

For management, the Workload module provides a quick summary of the workload along with information on audits, nonconformances, training and calibration requirements, supplier reviews and document control. The Performance and Cost Review module allows for efficient reporting on nonconformances raised in the Corrective and Preventive Action module.

Q-Pulse lacks some features that we would like. First, the Q-Pulse databases should be OLE-compliant to allow for easier information sharing with other programs such as report writers, ERP systems and office automation tools. At a minimum, data importing and exporting should be provided for to improve system implementation and reporting. On a systemwide basis, a more comprehensive search facility is needed. The program should include the ability to find all documents with a specific customer or department name in them. Finally, the Audit module does not have an integrated audit checklist. It does, however, allow you to directly access a Microsoft Word document for such purposes.

 Q-Pulse's version 4.0 is due out in December. This version will address the OLE, search, spell check, context-sensitive help, import/export and uninstall deficiencies, and contain more than a dozen new features.

 We had to contact Quality America only once during the review period, and that was for an installation issue caused by not following the well-written documentation. The company responded within two hours of the e-mail message we sent.

 Q-Pulse takes much of the pain out of ISO 9000 administration while delivering the benefits inherent to that quality system: improved business functions, improved product quality and more satisfied customers. The software is worth considering if you're looking for ways to improve productivity and reduce administration expenses.

About the author

 Jeff Kempton is quality assurance manager and mechanical engineer at SpaceAge Control Inc., a sensor and instrumentation manufacturing company based in Palmdale, California. He can be reached by fax at (805) 273-4240 or by e-mail at jkempton@qualitydigest.com .

System requirements: 486/33 or better PC, 8 MB RAM, 15 MB free disk space (2 MB for network clients), VGA , DOS v6.0 or later, Windows 3.1 or later. If external e-mail system linking is desired, a MAPI- or VIM-compatible e-mail system is required.

Price: $1,795 for single-user license, $750 for each additional user

Contact: Quality America Inc. (U.S. distributor)
7650 E. Broadway, Suites 208-210
Tucson, AZ 85710
Telephone: (800) 722-6154, (520) 722-6154
Fax: (520) 722-6705


PerfnowWriting Effective Employee Appraisals
Performance Now! 3.0

by Scott M. Paton

Writing effective employee performance appraisals can be a time-consuming and painful process. Fortunately, a number of software packages have been developed during the last few years that not only save time but also help managers conduct more effective reviews. We reviewed one popular product recently and even used it to conduct three performance appraisals here at Quality Digest.

Performance Now! is an inexpensive, easy-to-use software package that makes the performance-appraisal process easier and more useful for both managers and employees. The program features a user-friendly interface that steps managers through the entire performance-appraisal process.

To begin, the manager first establishes an employee record, which contains basic employee information, such as name, title, salary, date of last review, date of next review, etc. This builds the employee log, which contains information on all employees and allows managers to keep track of employee performance and schedule reviews. A built-in calendar will even remind managers when appraisals are due.

The performance-appraisal process begins by evaluating an employee's performance in any or all of more than 30 different performance elements, such as adaptability, communications, cooperation, customer service, initiative, performance coaching, problem solving, safety and security, teamwork and quality. The manager rates the employee on a six-point scale from "not applicable" to "high." The performance elements can be easily adjusted for different weighting factors. For example, a manager may consider "quality" more important than "initiative" and decide to give it a higher weighting factor in the review.

The software uses its Intelli-Text technology to generate text to support each of the performance appraisal's rating elements as the manager rates them. This allows managers to change their ratings as they go. The personalized text is well-written and easily editable. It incorporates the employee's name in the text, and it's a snap to add examples or to correct language that's either too harsh or too soft.

Performance Now! has a fairly extensive "Advice" menu that helps managers determine how to rate employees in different performance elements. For example, it explains "planning and organization" as "This element is appropriate when the employee has some degree of control over how he or she manages time and chooses what to do."

Performance Now! allows managers to set and track goals. Managers may set short- and long-term goals quickly and easily. Again, different weights can be assigned to goals to set goal priorities.

An especially nice feature is the program's Employee Log. It allows managers to record specific examples of employee performance at any time during the year. Those examples may then be pasted directly into the employee's next review. For example, say an employee devises a new process that shaves 10 percent off manufacturing costs. That idea can be recorded in Performance Now! by the employee's manager at any time. Then the idea isn't forgotten when the employee's next appraisal comes up. It also works for recording information on employee problems, which can be essential in a labor dispute.

One weak area is the program's built-in list of coaching ideas. The manager chooses from a list of tips for improving performance after rating the employee's performance. The list is too generic, although it can be used as a foundation to write your own improvement plan. It would be nice if the program used the same Intelli-Text technology it uses in the rating section to write an improvement plan based on your selections here. Also, the manager must constantly switch between two menus and scroll through a list of the performance elements. The program should step the manager through each performance element.

 A really useful feature is the software's built-in Web links to more than 3,500 job descriptions on the Internet. While it's unlikely that you'll find just the job description you're looking for, the descriptions provide a great start to writing your own.

 After the appraisal is complete, Performance Now! prints out a professional-looking review, which includes relevant employee information at the top; a goals section, including progress on current goals; and the various performance elements rated, including the weighting factor, an overall rating and in-depth text explaining the employee's rating. A summary section lists accomplishments and plans for improvement, and provides room for the employee to add his or her own comments.

 Overall, Performance Now! is an excellent, easy-to-use, inexpensive performance-appraisal package. It was easy to install and ran well on a relatively slow Pentium-powered PC running Windows 95.

 I spent more time preparing for the three performance appraisals for which I used Performance Now!, but my employees and I believe the appraisals were more in-depth and useful. Performance Now! actually made performance appraisals something to look forward to!

System requirements: Windows 3.11 or 95/98, CD-ROM, 8 MB RAM, Internet browser required to access Web links.

Price: $119

Contact: KnowledgePoint
1129 Industrial Ave.
Petaluma, CA  94952
Telephone: (707) 762-0333
Fax: (707) 762-0802


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