Quality is the fire at the heart of your business. In successful organisations it burns hot and bright, ensuring that your products and services stand out from the competition and build your reputation. Apart from the need to make a living, the desire to provide a superior quality product or service is probably what got you started in business in the first place.
Like all fires, quality needs looking after. If you don't keep a watchful eye and provide new fuel, your fire eventually dies out and poor quality will send your customers to the hotter, brighter fires of your competitors. You may be surprised to hear that the risk of quality issues is actually increased when your business is successful and growing. Why is this the case?
A growing enterprise is by definition working under stress. It takes all your energy and attention to deal with strategic matters such as funding, recruitment, resourcing, expansion, acquisition, sales and marketing. Scale-up operations may include new people, new premises, new equipment, new suppliers, new customers, new systems, new technologies. Every one of these changes puts stress on your organisation and puts quality at risk.
What if, on top of all that, you have actual quality problems landing in your inbox? As well as front-line issues like returns, complaints and warranty claims (collectively known as escapes), you might be aware of problems in the operational process or the supply chain which represent a risk of future escapes. Instead of hoping to catch these problems before your customers notice them, wouldn't it be better to invest in a preventive process that saves time, money, stress and reputation in the long-run? This is what a quality management system (QMS) is for.
Cut through the hype and the jargon that often surrounds quality and what you are left with is a QMS that describes a practical way of working to achieve consistent quality of products and services. That sounds like a good way of attracting and retaining customers, doesn't it?Quality management isn't just for larger businesses. If you have a small business and a simple operation, then you can have a small QMS and minimal paperwork. You don't have to sacrifice flexibility and agility. You won't lose control of your business in fact you will be gaining control and setting a foundation for future growth.
If you are hoping to break into a market where ISO 9001 is an entry requirement, then a simple QMS will satisfy the auditors. If you are working in a highly regulated sector with its own specific standards, the same QMS can be shaped to accommodate some additional controls. The key is to set up the system before things get too complicated and people get too entrenched in well-meaning inefficiency. An early start avoids the problem of unpicking all those well-intentioned, but ultimately unstructured, working methods and trying to stitch them back together without upsetting everyone!
The way forward
Every QMS should be different because every business is different. Don't be fooled into thinking you can buy one off the shelf or you might end up with that quick, cheap but meaningless pile of paper that gives ISO 9001 a bad name and will embarrass you with a non-UKAS certificate rejected by key customers. A good consultant will work with you to design a QMS that fits your business model, meets the required standards, minimises paperwork, achieves ISO certification with UKAS backing, and provides that all-important foundation for consistency and growth.
QFactorial can quickly assess your quality/ISO needs and suggest a practical way forward based on your particular business set-up. An initial call and a fact-finding visit (free consultancy) are usually enough for us to propose a sensible solution to meet your budget and timescale.
Kevin Brown is a Director and Principal Consultant at QFactorial, a quality management consultancy headquartered in Basingstoke. QFactorial specialises in helping start-ups and SMEs by designing practical and business-focused quality management systems to meet various ISO standards.