Joshua is a graduate student at the USF. He has interests in business technology, analytics, finance, and lean six sigma.
Continued Quality Improvement
Especially since the time of the dot-com boom, businesses—at least the successful ones—have been institutions that change. Nowadays, cutting-edge technologies and the processes that drive them to become obsolete within a few years. To remain competitive, businesses need to combat this trend by improving the quality of products and processes.
Finding ideas about how to improve can be as easy as considering an employee's idea, documenting a customer complaint, or even looking at another company's approach compared to yours. In creating a quality initiative for your company, the best thing to look at is what has worked in the past.
If you implemented a process that enhanced quality before and it worked, why not implement it somewhere else in the company or modify it to work? The key phrase I'm getting to is "least path of resistance." Another thing you can do while starting a quality revamp is to brainstorm about how to mitigate constraints to your existing quality procedures.
I can't develop a quality improvement plan for you, but by using benchmarking, employee feedback, and customer feedback, you should be able to find ideas to get you on your way!
What Is Benchmarking?
"Benchmarking" means comparing the costs, productivity, and time of processes or methods to standards and best practices. Benchmarking helps a company understand where the company stands on a standard. If the standard is considered under par, then continuous improvement may need to be considered for the company to better itself on that standard.
To enable benchmarking, one must first decide what indicator(s) will be used. Indicators could be the time it takes customer service to greet callers, the number of defects per unit, or any process that can have some type of metric that can be measured. Once the process and metrics of measure are known, you can find a supplier, customer, or any company that will let you compare processes and metrics. Benchmarking can be with similar companies within an industry, but it does not necessarily have to be. The process diagram below is an example of how a company may set up a benchmarking process.
Process and Benefits of Benchmarking
As seen in the sample benchmarking process diagram above, the process starts with a decision about what to benchmark. Next, data needs to be collected, monitored, and documented. Once data has been validated, an internal baseline for the metrics and standards used for comparison can be declared. Now you can compare your standards to that of other companies and then report your findings for review.
The benchmarking process continues and can continue for many different tasks that the business is involved in. An example of a benchmark that can be created within an industry could be a quality measurement of plastic. Say you are completing an impact test for a special kind of plastic in a lab, but you don't have manufacturer specifications and don't have past data for the material. At this point, it would be a good idea to find another organization in the plastics industry that you can compare your standards with. As I stated before, benchmarking doesn't have to deal with a similar business as long you can complete the chart above to compare similar measurable processes.
How Benchmarking Makes a Business More Competitive
Benchmarking can make a business more competitive in a multitude of ways. Other business cultures, training programs, and recognition systems can be adopted and tested to help a company find the best business practices. It does serve as a collective task, so companies will have to be willing to share data in return for useful feedback.
How to Collect and Use Customer Feedback
Most quality teachings are based on better serving the customer. Teachings from the famous quality gurus who developed systems like six sigma and total quality management are focused specifically on the customer for good reason. The customer is the best source for determining the best uses and utility for all products and services.
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There are plenty of ways a business can engage continued communication with the customer to try to find out what they are thinking about a product. Amazon's survey system is one of the biggest the U.S. retail circuit has ever seen. Amazon knows when packages arrive, and they are quick to ask for reviews so they can settle any possible issues that arise before customers have time to lose their patience.
Another way many businesses are collecting survey data from customers is through social networking. This is really popular with restaurants. Other ways include speech analytics, CRM system notes, response cards, and simply just by talking to customers. Any negative feedback that is returned can help fix mistakes or create new processes. Customers also help in formulating designs and improvements for future generations of most products.
How to Collect and Use Employee Feedback
Employees are an especially good source for quality and process improvement feedback. One example that I have from my experiences in aerospace manufacturing is a quality-improving board. Any employee in the whole company can fill out a card to either improve a process, fix equipment, or any quality or safety concerns that matter.
This mechanism that I'm familiar with was a series of cardholders set up on the wall. Horizontally, the folders were separated by value streams. Employees would put suggestions in the first column of their value stream. Once approved by the department supervisor, the suggestion would move the next column and so on through a series of approvals. Eventually, if the suggestion passed all reviews, the building manager would approve the idea and set a deadline for the improvement activity.
Employees weren't just driven by the grand prize of a $100 gas card, but they had a chance to make a positive change. More companies need to put mechanisms in place where employees are engaged in bettering the company.
Using Quality Circles
Some companies start a quality circle to analyze and solve quality-related issues within the company. A majority of the employees involved in quality circles are at lower skill levels with a manager or supervisor heading the group. The reason the group is made up of lower-level employees is simply that they know more problems throughout the company firsthand. This is the case in a large manufacturing facility or warehouse.
You can't have a group of professionals deciding for themselves on what improvement measures need to be made when they don't physically participate in the work environment.
Be More Quality Conscious
More than likely, your company does draw quality ideas from one of the three categories above. A point that I'm trying to drive home is the fact that even if a company appears to be doing well it still needs to be analyzed for newer types of quality methods.
Companies that neglect to start improving now are going to start falling behind. By 2030, one-third of the workforce will be unemployed due to automation. If your company is left behind as one of the companies that are heavily relying on the same old methods, you're not going to make it. Besides, we've been behind Japan in quality for over 50 years already.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Joshua Crowder