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Quality Management Systems – and how to make them stand the test of time

Go back 30 years and mention quality management systems (QMS) and people would tell you about BS5750, and then point proudly to their filing cabinets where they store their quality management documents. And the BS5750 certificate would be framed proudly on the reception wall.

Wind forward to the twenty-first century though and the world has changed at a rate of knots, especially when it comes to technology, but also for quality standards too.

What is a Quality Management System?

QMS is a term often bandied about, and is “a guarantee from businesses that their products and services are of the best and highest quality standards.” Some facts: over one million organisations in 170 countries have achieved ISO 9001. And as ISO, the body that sets the standards, says, “ISO 9001 can be used by any organisation, regardless of activity.”

A QMS can differentiate your firm from your competitors, showing that you have invested time to ensure that yours is a properly, professionally set up business delivering outputs or services to a pre-specified quality standard.

But the benefits go beyond this. A QMS can prevent costly mistakes, protect your reputation, and increase your responsiveness to customers. It can automate workflows, improve communication, heighten productivity, and empower employees. A QMS can improve risk forecasting, quality metrics, customer satisfaction and retention as well as enrich products and services, and win more business.

But the ever-evolving world has presented challenges

The economy is now far more focused on service industries than in the 1990s and technology has transformed how we work. And that pace has sped up over the past three years because of Covid-19. People work from home more and visit the office less often. Technology such as Zoom and Teams has transformed our working lives.

And while this has its benefits, it has its downsides too. The issues of on-boarding staff in a remote working environment; or how to manage the now familiar mix of employees and associates. And all of that impacts quality and how it can be nurtured.

QMS and the services sector

The launch of ISO 9001 in the 1987 gave rise to a misconception – that ISO 9001 was only for manufacturing businesses, for companies that make widgets rather than deliver services.

But looking at ISO 9001’s principles, a QMS does not discriminate on sector or industry, whether you make those widgets or run a supermarket chain. Those principles are generic: customer focus; leadership; involving people; processes and systems; continual improvement; a factual approach to decision-making; and relationship management.

The reality is that a manufacturer or a service company can each adopt a QMS: from Rolls-Royce to the AA, from BAE Systems to NHS hospitals. All have achieved ISO 9001.

But what is ‘quality’?

‘Quality’ can be difficult to define – like trying to staple jelly to a wall.

ISO defines it as “fitness for use,” “customer satisfaction,” “doing things right the first time,” or with “zero defects.” Swallowing a dictionary definition, quality is “a degree of excellence” and “superiority in kind”. To the layman though, it means being effective and efficient, consistent, and clear, and delivering high standards. But quality can also be constantly checking the value of a process, service, or product so that high standards can be nurtured and maintained.

How can quality be nurtured?

To foster quality, make it the drumbeat of your business and ensure everyone knows the processes to follow so that your customers receive the same high standards every time – even if they are remote working.

Make the QMS the DNA of your organisation – so that everyone thinks about quality every time and all the time. And make those processes straightforward, clear and check that they really do add value – but that they do not entrap a business in unimaginable and frustrating treacle. Even add it to your firm’s induction so that those who are hybrid working understand it and contribute to its success.

Communication is a key way to nurture quality. As a recent LinkedIn article remarked, “a robust quality culture encourages and empowers employees to speak up when they observe deviations, potential risks, or even outright errors that could compromise the overall quality of the end product or service.”

This communication and speaking up is crucial as a preventative measure and means mistakes can be spotted early. Open communication can foster a sense of trust. By encouraging such a culture, “the organisation taps into a collective pool of knowledge, leading to continuous improvement and innovation.” A company committed to open communication is “the hallmark of an organisation committed to excellence.”

But a QMS demands other characteristics too. Accountability is key – who, in the senior leadership team, owns the QMS. That must be clear, highlighted in garish neon lights so everyone knows who, on the board, is responsible for delivering quality.

A successful QMS needs people to be constantly involved – both employees and customers. They can be a great source of ideas for a business, irrespective of whether you produce widgets or fix cars at the roadside. They can improve your business and give it an even greater competitive advantage.

As well as asking for their opinions, make time for mentoring; reward good performance; improve accountability and ownership; clarify goals and responsibilities; perfect your onboarding process; and provide ongoing training and support. With that, your QMS could stand the test of time. And at Lion & Gazelle, we can support you on your quality journey.

Adopt this approach, and you will successfully nurture your QMS so that your framed ISO 9001 certificate means much more than a piece of paper on the wall – a successful, growing business with highly motivated employees and above all, high quality products and services.

While much has changed over the past 30 years, that certificate remains a constant. Bring that to life and make it your DNA.

How can Lion & Gazelle help you on your ISO9001 journey?

Lion & Gazelle can help you conceptualise, develop and implement a sustainable programme consisting of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) as the key cornerstone to Quality Management (based on the ISO9001:2015 framework). Starting off with conducting a Gap Analysis of your current systems and processes, we can help you pull together an implementation plan leading to your certification and beyond.

We can train your team in the QMS way of thinking and make them self-sufficient to ensure that QMS is embed in your organisation.


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