Checking in

Q: Is there a checklist that can be used to determine how to get a quality management system (QMS) off the ground?

A: There are many practical items to consider in a checklist that will help you establish a QMS. For example:

  • Do you have senior management support and commitment to the QMS?
  • Is senior management personally involved to the extent it takes actions and participates in QMS planning?
  • Have you established a steering committee with senior management participation?
  • Have you done a baseline gap assessment between current processes, ISO 9001 requirements and organizational requirements?
  • Is there a comprehensive project plan with resources, milestones and critical success factors?
  • Are the process owners committed and actively involved in designing and developing the QMS?
  • Are the QMS results tied to organizational incentive plans?

This list can go on with more technical items that are required for a QMS. Developing this list is relatively an easier task. This is just the "what" and "how" of an effective QMS. Most important is to understand why it is or why it will be difficult to get this initiative off the ground.

An initial assessment of the organization may be necessary before a checklist or action plan can be created to help establish your QMS. You should know the culture and history of the organization, current events and strategic direction—past, present and future—before putting together a checklist or action plan that is likely to succeed.

The organization’s culture is important to understand whether the necessary fundamentals are present. For example, if the organization rewards firefighters; chases revenue from quarter to quarter; doesn’t conduct long-term planning; is without direction for investing in people, process and infrastructure; and disregards customer satisfaction, then you have a foundational issue that needs to be resolved first.

As far as the history of the organization, I would suggest talking to some of the longer-term employees to figure out whether there were any previous attempts to establish a QMS. If so, it’s important to collect information regarding the outcome of those efforts and lessons learned. If there were some false starts before, bad precedence can leave bitter experiences and make your attempts to revive the QMS futile.

You will need to establish a need and urgency to bring attention to your efforts. What is currently happening in the organization? This may be an opportunity to make a connection and get attention.

Major design or contract wins, safety accidents, major process excursions, product recalls, losses of major customers and low gross margin are some events and opportunities that can help make a strong case for establishing a QMS. People react positively if they can relate to an opportunity.

Everyone knows that without quality, a product or service is not marketable. The difficulty is translating that understanding into QMS language so employees at all levels—specifically senior management—sense the need and urgency to support the implementation.

As for the strategic direction, find out whether the organization is positioning itself for potential acquisition or investment, entering a new market segment, introducing a new product or service, restructuring business models or outsourcing your business processes. This information can be used to address the need for a QMS. In addition, putting together a cost-of-poor-quality metric at a high level can help make an economic case for a QMS.

Find out whether there has been any change in senior management since the last attempt. Leverage leaders who have worked for organizations that had a full-fledged QMS implementation. These individuals can be your biggest supporters during the planning stages.

Remember, it is equally important to sustain the momentum for a QMS. The job is not done by merely getting it off the ground. You need to see the obstacles ahead of you to be able to steer past them.

Govind Ramu
Senior manager, quality systems
SunPower Corp.
San Jose, CA

For More Information

Orthaber, John, "Get Your Ducks in a Row," Quality Progress, October 2010, pp. 40-46.

Six Sigma selection

Q: What are the triggers to watch for when selecting a Six Sigma project? In other words, how do you identify a good candidate for a Six Sigma project?

Bhaskar Jha
Noida, India

A: You have asked a critical question that is often given less consideration than the subject deserves. If you have the opportunity, take the time to review the Master Black Belt certification body of knowledge that was issued last year. A key recurring theme is that Six Sigma projects be linked to an organization’s strategies.

Think about this from an organization’s point of view. An organization develops strategies so it can achieve its goals and objectives. Strategies often decompose into tactical plans and further into operational plans—also known as action plans.

It is at this lowest planning level that projects can be defined. If this decomposition is completed in a systematic and logical manner, line of sight is maintained from projects to strategies. So, first and foremost, a Six Sigma project must be linked to strategies.

In addition to the strategic link, projects must have well-defined charters. The charter document should include, at a minimum:

  • The business case that identifies the dollars to be saved and establishes how the project aligns to the organization’s strategies.
  • The problem statement that identifies what is working or not working, or where the pain point lies.
  • A specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) goal statement that identifies the project’s targets and how the success of the project will be measured.
  • The project scope that specifies the boundaries of the projects.
  • The project plan, which includes the estimated project duration.
  • An identified list of preferred team members.

Of course, the project sponsor or Champion should sign the charter. If any of the aforementioned six areas are omitted or otherwise incomplete, don’t consider the project worthy of selection as a Six Sigma project. Also, if there is no sponsor, there is no project.

Some people may argue that criteria are strong or unfair. I use this approach to qualify a project for entry into the selection process.

Many organizations accept minimally or vaguely defined projects and wonder why they fail. Doing a lot of the legwork prior to project selection helps ensure projects get off to better starts and have higher success rates. Also, this approach minimizes project stalls and terminations.

The Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt Handbook that is scheduled to be released later this year addresses all of the aforementioned requirements within the context of a complete pipeline creation and management system. The system considers project identification, qualification, selection, prioritization, assignment and closure. With those criteria at your disposal, you should have no problem selecting projects.

T.M. Kubiak
Performance Improvement Solutions
Weddington, NC

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