Quality Planning and Continual Improvement
Quality Objectives and Quality Dreams
By Mark Kaganov
This article reviews common practices for, and the positive results of,
establishing measurable quality objectives for ISO 9001 and other
quality management systems. The author suggests a practical model for
identifying and documenting objectives to drive the continual
improvement of management systems. This article also illustrates
ineffectiveness that results from vague and poorly defined quality
objectives, and demonstrates how well-structured and documented quality
objectives can lead an organization to a more efficient quality
management system that increases customer satisfaction. An example of a
Quality Objectives Matrix (shown in the paper) presents a useful method
for documenting and managing various aspects of quality management
systems. The paper will be helpful to those organizations that have not
yet formally documented their quality objectives and for those that are
interested in improving the effectiveness of their quality management
systems and the performance of their business.
Through my consulting and auditing career I have been collecting "the
best and the worst" samples of management systems and QMS documentation.
Among those collectibles, here are a few examples of the worst
documented quality objectives that I have seen thus far:
"...to deliver exceptional values through trust
of the people around the world"
"...conduct business better, simpler, faster"
"...quality is paramount and all our employees
are committed to quality".
Regretfully, these "quality objectives" are straight from the
documentation of some of the organizations and professionals with whom I
have worked. How companies could measure performance against such
"objectives" is anybody's guess. I may be overly sensitive to vague and
uncertain goals because I've had several bad experiences with such
"objectives" in the past.
When I grew up in the former Soviet Union, day and night Soviet
propaganda tried to fool us. They would say that everything was getting
better and better, while we all knew that it was not true. Since then, I
have been unable to figure out how one could say that something is
getting better or worse--or even exists--when there is nothing to
compare this "something" with.
The interesting "objectives" quoted above resemble dreams, not
objectives. There is nothing wrong with having dreams. Often measurable
accomplishments start from dreams. These dreams might include making a
computer user interface more intuitive, engineering a care that requires
less fuel, automating documentation systems, etc. The problem is that
many organizations stop at dreams and don't make quantifiable progress
that is significant for employees, stakeholders and other parties.
If we agree that starting from a dream is a good beginning, let's see
how we can translate a dream into a measurable objective. Element 5.2 of
the ISO 9001 standards, among others, requires "...enhancing customer
satisfaction..". Committing to such a program in the QMS documentation
is a good idea because the standard requires it and
because—obviously—satisfied customers are the customers that continue
paying the bills. However, it's not good enough to simply state this
dream within the quality objectives documentation because "customer
satisfaction" cannot be accurately measured. I worked with companies for
example that established their customer satisfaction targets to 87, 97
or whatever percent. What those percentages meant—my apologies—I have no
idea. Simply speaking, even collecting satisfaction surveys can be far
too subjective. If a customer marks 87 today, she can mark 76 tomorrow.
Fortunately, there is an alternative way to translate customer
satisfaction objectives into "measurable specifics." Since we all are
"professional" customers we can confidently say that to make a customer
happy, one needs very little. Simply give your customers:
These qualifications are more specific and may in summary represent a
meaningful base for measuring customer satisfaction.
Quantifying Quality Objectives
If we agree that the three objectives above leading to customer
satisfaction are a good start, let's see how we can quantify them.
"Give them what they asked for" may be quantified by identifying the
number of product returns with the reason for return labeled as "wrong
part" or anything similar.
"When they want it" may be measured through variance between actual
delivery date and the target, or requested delivery date.
"The price they believe is honest" may be expressed as variance between
our price and the average of compatible products. This data can be
obtained through periodic competitive price surveys.
Responsibility: Anybody Could Have Done It...
Now that we have developed a list of quality objectives and know how to
measure them, we should consider perhaps the most important attribute of
any task: accountability. Remember the story about those three guys,
Everybody, Anybody and Nobody? When hell broke loose and Everybody knew
what needed to be done, Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did.
The moral of the story is simple: if you need to get something done,
make a particular person, not a committee or a function responsible for
it. When something needs to be accomplished it shouldn't be handed over
to "collective responsibility." Since every company wants to achieve its
objectives and goals, every company can start by assigning specific
responsibilities to specific employees, depending on their expertise and
authority within the organization. For example, the most appropriate
person to oversee and report delivery accuracy is most likely the
Shipping Manager. The most appropriate person to report on customer
retention is the Customer Service Manager; the most appropriate person
to report on pricing would be the VP of Marketing, etc.
Now that we have identified our objectives and associated
responsibilities, we need to define practical frequencies for the review
of each objective. These reviews, or performance appraisals, are usually
conducted by management or delegated to lower tactical forums. Top level
management reviews are conducted monthly, quarterly or annually, while
tactical reviews on departmental levels may be conducted daily, weekly,
monthly or quarterly.
Setting Practical Quality Goals
There is a saying: "Be careful what you wish for — you just may get it!"
If this is true and we wished we could deliver our products to our
customers all the time and every time it could come true! Unfortunately,
this wisdom is not for everybody. Some time ago I worked with a company
that took an opposite approach. When I interviewed the Order Processing
Manager and examined their records, I learned that their delivery
accuracy was somewhere around 60 percent with delays of up to 30 days.
"What are your goals in improving delivery?" I asked. "Reach 80
percent," the manager replied. "How often do your customers want
shipments on time?" I asked. "All the time," she replied.
"Why is your goal not 100 percent then?" I asked. "It will de-motivate
employees to miss the goal most of the time," she answered.
It was very thoughtful of the manager and the entire organization to be
concerned with their employees' moral and motivation but contradictory
to the company's policy to "meet or exceed customer expectations." Do we
stop aiming at the center of the target when we're shooting darts even
if we do not hit the center every time? Sometimes I wonder why some
organizations apply different standards to their employers, service
providers and suppliers than to themselves... Wouldn't it be fair to try
to be 100 percent on time when we deliver products when we ourselves
expect our employer to be on time with our monthly or bimonthly
By using the simple approaches addressed in this paper, you may develop
a powerful quality management tool that will allow your business to
assess its performance characteristics based on data and not feelings.
As a matter of fact, my most successful clients developed and started
using full-blown Balanced Scorecards to manage their quality, business
and other objectives. Such scorecards may include financial, quality,
environmental, process realization and other business systems.
As an old Chinese saying goes, a three-year journey starts from the
first step. I hope this information helps other professionals realize
how measurable objectives, their target values and their periodic
reviews will lead their companies to achieve their business goals.
Aim high, do not be afraid of missing targets (sometimes) and good luck
in reaching your measurable quality objectives and goals using the
Quality Objectives Matrix below.
This Quality Objectives Matrix is included in our
Documentation Set and
About the author
Mark Kaganov holds a Master's degree in the design and technology of
electromechanical equipment and has more than 25 years experience in
development, implementation and the improvement of management systems.
Kaganov is an author of numerous technical publications and is a public
speaker. Since the mid 90s he has been a Director of Operations and a
Lead Consultant with Quality Works. Quality Works specializes in ISO
9001, ISO 13485, ISO 14001, FDA QSR 820 and other management systems.
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