A process-oriented quality management system is an effective tool for securing and increasing the success of a company. For small and medium-sized companies, simple instructions with practical aids for implementation are often lacking. Our article offers a preliminary orientation on the way to achieving optimization.
There is a standard for effective and comprehensive quality management. The DIN EN ISO 9001:2015 ff, which has nothing wrong with it, is in many cases too lavish. Four fundamental questions are helpful on the way to optimization. But the push in one direction can only work if those involved agree on the answers. Moving from the system to optimization is an exciting and rewarding journey.
What do we mean by a system?
I understand a system to be a distinct, natural or artificial “entity” that consists of different parts with different properties. Parts that are considered as a common whole based on certain ordered relationships among them. The interaction of the parts is based on a formal or informal structure.
Experience shows that employees of a company often do not perceive themselves, or no longer perceive themselves, as part of a company, i.e., the system. Frequently, their thinking does not go beyond the departmental boundaries and a “silo behavior” prevails. Departmental boundaries prevent optimization.
What do we mean by function?
Function (from Latin functio “activity, accomplishment”) first of all refers, in general terms, to the task and mode of action of something. In system organization, I understand this to mean a delimited area of tasks and responsibilities. For the delimitation of tasks, the mathematical understanding of the function, the mapping between quantities, is helpful.
In practice, due to personnel unions and the accumulation of offices, it happens that employees have several functions, i.e., they perform elements (tasks) of quantity A (department A) and quantity B (department B) as a task. If the merging of functions is not done in consideration of the processes, it can even result in dysergy, i.e., the opposite of synergy, where processes work against each other. In this state, the system becomes sluggish and inflexible.
What is an error?
I call the deviation of a state, process or result from a standard, the rules or a goal an error. It is always necessary to find the cause of the error. The analysis of an error or problem is most easily done with the cause-effect principle. Other terms for this form of representation are the Fishbone Diagram or the Ishikawa Diagram.
In fact, in day-to-day business we are more concerned with the effect than with the cause. If the relationship of effects to causes is no longer clear to employees, then error analysis is usually only feasible with an external view. “We’ve always done it that way,” is the textbook indication of an insufficient understanding of the reciprocal relationships.
How do you evaluate risks?
The identified errors represent risks for a company. These need to be assessed and prioritized by the company itself or by third parties. Prioritization is based on the aspects of effect and effort.
A change is easier to achieve if there is a prospect of success. If there is an advantage for the parties involved, the change will last, assuming that conditions remain the same. In practice, we try to work out the so-called low-hanging fruits (= low effort, high effect). It is simply more fun when a visible success is achieved quickly.
Finding the optimum
Searching for the optimum under certain prerequisites and objectives is called optimization. The optimum is the best achievable result in the sense of a trade-off between different properties with regard to the application or a goal.
Nobody comes into the world and wins the 100-meter sprint in a competition on the same day. We learn to sit, stand, walk and run. Maybe we become sprinters. Maybe we will become long-distance runners. For both, we need rules so that everyone starts on a level playing field, and we need to measure results from a benchmark. In practice, we achieve the optimum using the SMART formula.
Achieving the optimum is not easy. It is difficult because very few people like the prerequisite of leaving their own comfort zone. But those who do like it are successful, in or with a company.