When most people think about quality assurance (QA). they imagine the process of testing products prior to delivery to the customer. In software, QA involves code inspection, regression testing, test cases, and more. In manufacturing, it involves acceptance sampling, error proofing, statistical process control, and stress testing among other things. The goal in both cases is to produce a product that will meet and exceed customer demands, while minimizing variation as much as possible.
Few companies release products with known material defects into the market, but many operate with known defects and messy work arounds for business processes. What if the quality assurance model for products was also directed at every process in your business? Would the “customer” consider them each to be free of defects? Let’s think for a bit about what it means to apply the quality assurance concept to the business as a whole.
Producing Products for Customers
If you think about it, each business process produces a product or an outcome for a customer. Sometimes the customers are internal and sometimes the “product” is invisible, but they're customers and products just the same. For example, the process of entering a purchase order into the ERP system produces a payable invoice for the AP manager. The process of updating prospect records in the CRM produces a reliable forecast for the VP of Sales. When you look at every process through this lens and identify both the product and the customer, the opportunity for quality assurance principles to be applied emerges. There might be "defects" everywhere we look!
It is likely that both the people who are engaging in business processes and their customers can easily identify defects in both the process and the results. We can define a defect as anything that doesn't go as it should in a process, even if the defect doesn't reach the end customer. These are the things that drive front line employees crazy every day, yet often escape the notice of top level management. Applying the idea of QA to processes elevates what may be seen as minor complaints to opportunities for improvement and defect reduction.
Culture of Quality
Thinking about the business in terms of quality assurance makes defect-free results everyone’s job. Ignoring problems or implementing work arounds that only serve to mask deeper issues becomes unacceptable as the culture embraces the quality mantra. Not only will this positively impact the targeted business processes, but ultimately, the goods and services provided to external customers will be delivered more profitably.
Sometimes positive change begins with a change of mindset. A shift to a holistic quality assurance mindset might be just what is needed to improve results for your business.