Continuous quality management (CQM) does not look the same in every organization. Some practice CQM as part of a business management philosophy like Lean or Six Sigma, while others implement it on its own. There are a bunch of tools and techniques that support CQM such as Gemba Walks, Catchball, and DMAIC that may or may not be used. However, there are some core principles that tie successful continuous quality management organizations together. They form the basis for the approach and are indispensable.
Quality Management is About Process Management
When you break it down, organizations are made up of hundreds, if not thousands of interlocking processes. The quality of the products or services that are delivered to external and internal customers alike is dependent on the quality of those processes. The financial health of the organization is dependent to a large extent on the efficiency of those processes. If you focus on the processes one at a time, you can fundamentally change the game and deal with the challenges facing your organization.
Quality management is not about placing blame on people. W. Edwards Deming believed that the system was responsible for 97% of the problems. The downside to simply blaming a person when quality standards are not met is that it prevents leaders investigating a bit more to find a root cause finding solutions that improve the performance of all the workers. If a worker makes a mistake, it is essential to ask why and find the process conditions that made the error possible.
Quality Management is Scientific
The scientific method involves careful observation; formulating hypotheses based on the observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses, and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the preliminary findings. That’s precisely what CQM requires. Workers examine a process and create baseline measurements for observable data (things like takt time, cost, defects, etc.). They identify potential opportunities for improvement and determine which change to test. Data from the modified process is compared to the baseline data to determine if improvement has indeed been achieved.
Note that for this type of experimentation to be effective, the must be a standard process against which the improvement can be measured. Standardization is, therefore, one of the cornerstones of quality management.
Quality Management is Everyone’s Job
Executives have more authority and thus more responsibility for creating a good management system that is continually improving. However, such a management system requires that everyone in the organization contribute. That’s because the people who do the work are closest to the processes and are the most likely to be able to identify process weaknesses and find innovative ways to address them. It is also critical to involve everyone in quality management because it creates a sense of ownership and accountability.
To get the level of engagement necessary to really benefit from continuous quality management, leaders must create an environment of transparency and trust. People must not fear a backlash from suggesting ideas for improvement and voices should not be dismissed merely because of their location on the org chart.
Quality Management is Preferable to Quality Inspection
Quality Management is a Daily Practice
Organizations should seek to improve continually and forever. Rapid improvement events are a useful tool for certain situations, but quality management is a daily practice that never ends. Sustaining the improvement mindset over the long haul is not easy. CQM must be part of the culture of the organization and a top-of-mind concern for managers and leaders at every level.
It is also an urgent matter to make improvements to the process of improvement on a regular basis. How easy is it for people to participate? How many improvements have been implemented? What is their impact? Continuous quality management software provides a platform to manage CQM and answer these crucial questions.
When applied thoughtfully, these quality management principles transform organizations and set each employee up to do their best work.