6 FAQs about Implementing a Quality Standard

6 FAQs about Implementing a Quality Standard

Manufacturers consistently focus on quality management in their operations. It is a key way to establish trust with their customers and help grow their revenues.

It’s also important for manufacturers to have a quality management program that ensures their processes meet the criteria for producing quality finished products, given customers high standards and expectations.

There are many quality standards for the manufacturing industry that prove essential to a manufacturer’s credibility. Adopting the best practices and meeting the regulations of a quality standard provides a direct competitive advantage over other manufacturers who do not have a standard certification.

To give you an idea of what’s involved with implementing a quality standard, we’ve drafted responses to six frequently asked questions – FAQs – that our quality consultants are often asked:

1. How long is it going to take?

While it is one of our most commonly asked questions during preliminary discussions for all implementations, there is no definitive answer. However, most implementation projects average about nine months from the kick-off meeting to the Certification Audit, though generally six to 12 months would encompass the majority of these projects.

Many characteristics come into play when considering the timeframe required for implementing a quality standard, the most significant being resources. Efforts are made to avoid drastic changes to the organization’s infrastructure, but it is important that resources be available, primarily in the form of people to dedicate time to the project.

Implementations are not done by the consultant, but rather with the consultant’s guidance. A large portion of the project takes place in the form of action item tasks which are completed between the consultant’s meetings. 

The consultant can move as fast as the company can move.  For example, companies who can dedicate a large number of resources to the project, meetings can occur every two weeks, or sooner.  Smaller organizations with fewer resources may require longer gaps in between meetings to give adequate time for the action items, with meetings every 3-4 weeks.

While the availability of resources is an important component in establishing a realistic timeframe, there are other factors to consider. Companies that conduct in-house design activities, outsource a notable portion of their production workload, or conduct special processes (such as welding, plating, heat-treating, etc.) necessitate additional work. Due to the nature of these activities, they will require special formalized oversight and documentation, which will in turn require more time allocated to implementation. 

On the other hand, companies that only conduct basic assembly and warehousing activities will likely have a much smaller QMS (Quality Management System), allowing them to move much quicker through the implementation project activities.

2.  What will change?

The goal of an implementation project is not to create mass amounts of change, but rather to build a QMS that accurately and effectively encompasses the activities that are already occurring within the organization. The ideal situation would involve formalization and minor modification to existing documentation and processes. The level of change associated with this is entirely dependent on the organization’s current state.

Despite the best efforts to utilize what is already in place, some changes will inevitably need to be made. The change that is going to be necessary will fall into three main categories:

1) Formalization/Documentation: Formally establishing the fundamentals of the organization is the backbone of the QMS. While trying not to change much of what the company physically does, it is necessary to establish clear and mutually understood processes and identify their process owners, inputs, outputs, associated resources, interactions with other processes, and effective metrics, which is a formalization of what your organization is already doing.

quality training2) Educating:  Training activities exist through every step of the implementation. It is the consultant’s responsibility to educate the leadership team and process owners, not only on the fundamentals of a successful QMS and the requirements of the standard, but also on the tools necessary to educate the rest of the workforce. Ensuring that there is a strong mutual understanding of why we’re doing this, and what everyone’s responsibility is to the QMS and associated processes, is essential to the success of the implementation.

3) Continuous Improvement:  Once an effective QMS is up and running, there must be a cultural mindset of continuously improving what has been established as part of this project.  The implementation of quantifiable metrics, management review meetings, and scheduled internal audits are valuable tools in helping to make effective improvements to the QMS on a regular basis.

3.  What will I have to do?

There are four primary steps involved in an implementation:
1)   Education
2)   Gap Analysis (current state vs. desired state)
3)   Implementation (journey to desired state)
4)   Maintenance

The consultant working with you spearheads these steps and helps identify any additional resources required to complete them effectively and efficiently. A project charter is utilized from day one, formally establishing the “to-do’s” which will give some clarity and direction to the scope of the project. While creating the tasks may be time-consuming, their detailed outlines serve as a resource through every step of the process.

4.  Will this require more forms?

The short answer is yes, some new documents will have to be created. Documentation is often the largest concern regarding an implementation. There may be an expectation that the standard will force the over-documentation of everything that an organization does, however, this is not necessarily true.

The reality is that you are already running a successful business, and your consultant will want to utilize as much of what is already in place as possible. The standard does require some formal documentation, but there is a significant amount of freedom in the way in which you choose to document. This freedom allows you to utilize forms and documents that are already in use, often with small modifications, to fulfill the requirements of the standard. These modifications can include things such as sign-off areas, additional fields for important notes, accepted/rejected counts, etc.

Companies that are using modern ERP systems are usually at a greater advantage. Many newer ERPs are designed for organizations already conforming to popular standards. This means that the documentation requirements of the standard are often built-in to popular ERP systems as the default. While an ERP system may not be considered a solution, it can be an extremely valuable tool if used correctly.

5.  How will I train my employees?

As previously noted, education is a large part of the implementation process. If your workforce doesn’t understand what is required of them, or the reason as to why you have a QMS, the system is going to be challenging to maintain.

Step one of the education process is training by the consultant with the leadership team and the project owner overseeing the implementation on behalf of the organization. Basic training of QMS fundamentals and overview of the standard’s requirements are generally covered.

Step two of the education process takes place with the process owners. Once the organization has identified and formalized their key processes essential to their business and the QMS, process owners responsible for the oversight of each process are identified. These individuals become an integral part of the implementation project. They participate in implementation activities, and receive training pertaining to their process and the process’s responsibilities to the QMS and to the standard.

Step three of the education process occurs on behalf of the organization. This step is the responsibility of the leadership team to communicate with its workforce. The information communicated from the consultant (and the associated standard) to leadership and the process owners should be flowed down to all respective parties as deemed necessary. While not all employees may need to receive in-depth training on the entirety of the standard, it is important for them to understand their responsibilities to their company’s QMS to ensure its effectiveness.

6.  What resources do I need to make this work?

The resources depend heavily on the organization’s structure. Generally speaking, the largest resource required of the company is in the form of employee and leadership availability.  Usually, there is a minimal amount of infrastructure change, specifically in regards to capital investment, unless absolutely necessary. The goal of an implementation is not to require drastic changes to an organization or its infrastructure, but rather to identify the successful characteristics of the business and structure them in such a way that promotes continuous improvement and effective monitoring.

The end goal of any implementation is not only to receive certification to a standard, but also to establish a QMS that provides competitive advantages for the organization. The gap between the current state and the desired state can differ greatly between organizations, and the resources required to help fill those gaps can vary accordingly. Other than resources in the form of people, an organization may need to allocate resources pertaining to technology, formal training or education of certain processes, vendor participation, minor infrastructure upgrades, or facility reorganization, just to name a few.

Any company that is willing to make a shift in their culture from “quality as a department” to “quality as a mindset” and is willing to provide appropriate leadership and necessary resources to the implementation process will have no problem in achieving their standard certification.

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