Designing a Quality Management System

When it comes to creating quality management systems (QMS), sometimes quality leaders just don’t know where to begin or what to do.  Let’s review the basic steps to implementing Total Quality Management (TQM) with a quality management system.

Define Organizational Mission, Values, and Priorities

The starting point for a QMS is establishing an organizational direction and ultimate organizational goals.  The organization also needs to establish priorities and what is important.  Every organization is going to have conflicts – between schedules, cost, compliance, and product functionality, for example.  Establishing priorities means decisions are based on a consistent set of values. 

It is critical, however, for the organization to be honest about its priorities.  Frequently they fall into the trap of saying what sounds good, but has no commitment to that value with actual management attention or resources.  How many times have you been told that your call is important, yet it isn’t treated as very important?  The organization should live its values through it commitment to Total Quality Management.

Map the Major Processes

Most TQM and QMS programs are process based systems.  This requires understanding how operational activities fit together to achieve the desired outcomes. Start by mapping out the major, overarching processes (for example sales, purchasing, production, and design) with their inputs, activities, and outputs. Once major processes are defined, map the primary sub-processes that comprise the overarching organizational processes.

Creating a useful, formal description of how the organization works is a firm requirement for QMS.  If process definitions already exist, review them closely for accuracy.  The starting point should be how processes actually work, not how they should work.  Improvement comes later, but only if the organization is dealing with reality.  

Critical processes should be documented in the quality manual, in procedures, or other TQM documentation.

Define Roles and Responsibilities in the Quality System

Now that processes are defined, as well as the desired outcomes, people in the organization have to take responsibility for ensuring the desired results actually happen.  Processes owners are given the responsibility for their processes.  They create objectives and metrics that align with the organizational goals and priorities, and put in the place the needed resources like people, equipment, knowledge, and budget.  They also clearly signal if the organization doesn’t have the necessary resources to execute the process to meet the stated objectives.

This also means ensuring people have the needed skills, education, or training necessary to properly execute their roles.  Where there are gaps, take steps to close them with continuing education and training.  A commitment to on-going training is critical to organizations that want to improve. 

Regularly Review and Improve the System

Now that the organization has a overall direction, defined processes, and responsible process owners, the next question is, how is it working?  Are the process objectives being achieved?  Is the organization reaching, or at least moving toward, its goal?  If not, what needs to change?  A reflective evaluation is required, and then concrete steps are taken to improve.  If objectives are always easily reached, or seem unreachable, then a review of the objectives in needed.

In fact, there should be a regular review of organizational goals and priorities.  Do they truly reflect the desire and abilities of the organization?

While every organization should create a unique QMS specifically for the needs of their organization, these are the critical steps just about any organization needs to work through to put an effective QMS in place.  Then it becomes a reiterative process of improving the QMS by improving – that in turn provides value by continually improving the organization.  

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