Quality is an essential component of value.
World-class enterprises, geared around the core, lean principle of value and value-adding, are extremely conscious of the strategic importance of assuring the correct level of quality in the output value of their products or services.
However, their approach to quality, built on healthy principles of modern Total Quality Management, is somewhat different from traditional Quality Management methods:
- It is based on sound practice of the Quality Function Deployment discipline (more »), in order to give clients the product/service qualities they want, wish or expect.
- Quality is not a target, quality is just a tool. The target is: zero defects and zero failures.
- Quality is one component of value and of performance, as it is productivity. The approach to quality is not isolated, but integrated.
- Quality is, most of all, a cultural issue. It's the cultural power of quality that makes quality happen, and not vice-versa. Quality, therefore, is everybody's matter.
In the quality stage of the world-class enterprise everybody is a "leading man". There is no walk-on. Everybody is well educated in the field of quality and practises the quality culture on a daily basis.
The quality culture is integral part of the lean culture. Specific core principles of quality include the following ones:
- Quality of product, quality of service and quality of process are strictly linked and integrated.
- Output quality cannot exceed the quality of the process generating it.
- Quality is best assured there, where it is produced.
- Quality is defined by Customers. What satisfies Customers' expectations is specified in Quality Standards, explicit or implied. It is a major Management task to find and specify Quality Standards.
The rightness of the Standards will be judged by Customers.
Customers' expectations and wants change. So, Quality Standards are moving targets.
When Quality Standards are defined, Quality becomes very objective (Quality = conformance to Standards).
- Improving the quality of products/services is also the best way to reduce costs.
This is achieved by eliminating expenses and efforts required to correct errors.
Quality and Productivity, therefore, are allied and not enemies.
- Aiming at excellence is not only demanded by customers; it is also the best method to be "economical".
The world-class SME should approach Total Quality with a personalised combination of "top-down" and "bottom-up" methods.
An adequate "top-down" Quality Assurance System, simple and non-bureaucratic, for instance ISO-based (but not only or necessarily), should always be formalised.
This system should not be rigid, but rather flexible and basic.
However, the main focus should be on a "bottom-up" approach, addressed to eliminating quality problems, non-conformities, errors and mistakes in a "Lean Kaizen" style.
The "zero-defects" targets is generally achieved by means of poka-yoke (fool-proof) methods and tricks (more »).
In extreme or well suited situations, the 6-Sigma methodology (more ») may be the only answer.
The SME should avoid to end-up into two possible cul-de-sacs:
- a QA System so rigid and based on so rigid QA procedures that will "deep-freeze" a status-quo for years to come
- and the dead-end belief that a good QA System (for instance ISO-based) will represent the solution not only to all quality problems but also to all enterprise's problems.
Both situations lead to poor or inadequate value-culture: an "extreme" quality culture based on too strong QA foundations may cause loss of attention to other core components of value, primarily productivity.
...undergoing or implementing a Quality Assurance or Total Quality Program without considering the Productivity aspect would be "handicapped".....
In all those cases in which a QA certification is necessary (for instance: automotive industry) or beneficial (also for marketing purposes - for instance: food industry), the QA system should always be kept to basic proportions and used intelligently to bring benefits, and not to destroy them....
The other main issue is Quality Control, in all its aspects. All traditional QC approaches are generally not suited to the world-class SME.
There are very few cases (especially in the Manufacturing sector) in which only traditional QC or SPC (Statistical Process Control) can guarantee an adequate output quality. But they are very limited - and technology progresses tend to eliminate the need for such tools.
The SME should embrace the Ishikawa principle "Quality is best assured there, where it is produced" and eliminate the need for value-consuming QC altogether - by switching over to "in-process" poka-yoke methods capable of preventing any non-conformity from being produced. Finito.
The excellent enterprise is the one in which the "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to Total Quality are harmoniously combined in such a way that they complement each other and benefit each other.
Another distinct feature of world-class enterprises is their acute attention to the so called costs of non-quality (CNQ or NQC). (more »)