Quality Plans

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A quality plan is a document, or several documents, that together specify quality standards, practices, resources, specifications, and the sequence of activities relevant to a particular product, service, project, or contract. Quality plans should define:

  • Objectives to be attained (for example, characteristics or specifications, uniformity, effectiveness, aesthetics, cycle time, cost, natural resources, utilization, yield, dependability, and so on)
  • Steps in the processes that constitute the operating practice or procedures of the organization
  • Allocation of responsibilities, authority, and resources during the different phases of the process or project
  • Specific documented standards, practices, procedures, and instructions to be applied
  • Suitable testing, inspection, examination, and audit programs at appropriate stages
  • A documented procedure for changes and modifications to a quality plan as a process is improved
  • A method for measuring the achievement of the quality objectives
  • Other actions necessary to meet the objectives

At the highest level, quality goals and plans should be integrated with overall strategic plans of the organization. As organizational objectives and plans are deployed throughout the organization, each function fashions its own best way for contributing to the top-level goals and objectives.

At lower levels, the quality plan assumes the role of an actionable plan. Such plans may take many different forms depending on the outcome they are to produce. Quality plans may also be represented by more than one type of document to produce a given outcome.

An example of this is a manufacturing company that machines metal parts. Its quality plan consists of applicable procedures (describing the production process and responsibilities), applicable workmanship standards, the measurement tolerances acceptable, the description of the material standards, and so forth. These may all be separate documents.

More variable information that pertains to a particular customer may be spelled out on individual work orders (sometimes called travelers). Work orders specify the machine setups and tolerances, operations to be performed, tests, inspections, handling, storing, packaging, and delivery steps to be followed.

An operating-level quality plan translates the customer requirements (the what) into actions required to produce the desired outcome (the how) and couples this with applicable procedures, standards, practices, and protocols to specify precisely what is needed, who will do it, and how it will be done. A control plan may specify product tolerances, testing parameters, and acceptance criteria. While the terminology may differ, the basic approach is similar for service and other types of organizations.

Deployment and Documentation of Quality Plans

Quality plans result from both deployed strategic quality policies (which are linked to organizational strategic plans) and from the specific legal regulations, industry standards, organization policies and procedures, internal guidelines, and good practices needed to meet customers’ requirements for products or services.

Strategic-level quality plans are developed and deployed through the strategic planning process. These broad-based quality plans become the guideline for each function’s or department’s supporting quality plan. Where appropriate, each function or department may develop and internally deploy operating-level quality plans.

Operating-level quality plans often are the resulting document(s) from a production scheduling function. As such, this documentation often includes blueprints, a copy of the customer’s order, references to applicable standards, practices, procedures, and work instructions, and details on how to produce the specific product or service.

When the product or service is produced, the planning documents may be augmented by inspection documentation, SPC charts, and copies of shipping documents and customer-required certifications. In the process, the plans are transformed from documents to records. In a fully computerized system, the documents mentioned may well be interactive computer screens, accessed at operators’ workplaces and control points. These screens, internally, become records when operators, inspectors, shippers, and others make computer entries to the screens.

A completed set of matrices, developed by a quality function deployment (QFD) process, may fulfill a component of an organization’s quality plan. The purpose of QFD is to capture and deploy the customers’ needs and requirements throughout the organization.

Documenting the quality plan(s) has multiple uses, such as:

  • Assuring conformance to customer requirements
  • Assuring conformance to external and internal standards and procedures
  • Facilitating traceability
  • Providing objective evidence
  • Furnishing a basis for training
  • Together with multiple plans for the organization’s products, services, and projects, providing a basis for evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of the quality management system.

Excerpted from The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, ASQ Quality Press, Fourth Edition, 2014, Pages 266-268.

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