In a company, there are many coexisting functional areas that make business work properly: management, finances, administration, production/operations, quality, marketing, human resources, project management, process, logistics. In order to reach its organizational objectives, it is vital that all these areas have the same purpose and business strategy.
Next, we are going to delve into the Quality area: what is it, which are its main functions, its biggest challenges, etc.
Definition of the Area of Quality
The Quality Area of a company has the main function of monitoring that the commercial policies of the organization were followed. In other words, it will assess if the goals were met in the agreed time and if the expenses were appropriate to the budget. Moreover, it will be in charge of supervising the product or service before its delivery in order to assure that it is delivered to the customer according to the standards of the company.
Moreover, it is important to mention the existence of the ISO 9001 standards that have established the parameters for a Quality Management System. It is a strategic and methodological vision to assure the continuous growth of the company through the constant improvement of its products and services and always having in mind to provide customers with an excellent experience.
ISO 9001 Standards
They were created in 2008 by the International Organization of Standardization (I.S.O.). These standards are the framework for all Quality Management Systems in both public and private organizations. Its use does not depend on the size of the company (it does not matter if it is small, medium or large); the standards provide a very useful method of working that will be seen in the certification that the company gets.
A short history of its conception and development over time
Obsession over quality as an inherent aspect of humans has always existed in every civilization before modernity, probably with different shades than today.
In Egypt, it was found the "first of the quality treaties" inscribed in the grave of Tebas. It was described how quality inspectors at that time controlled the perpendicularity of the piled blocks by using ropes and measuring instruments (around 1450 B.C.). After this finding, it was confirmed that Americans from the center of the continent used similar control methods.
Some years later, Phoenician civilization used not so didactic nor striking methods to make sure that their dependents fulfilled their tasks precisely: after the quality control, if a worker did not follow the standard, he would lose his hand.
When the Middle Ages arrived, corporate doctrine brought about ideas about standardized, mass-produced work by applying quality control systems in every product they were going to sell. This way, the customer had the final word over the product before buying it. This brought about two consequences: on the one hand, the margins of commerce increased, providing great wealth to the lords of that time. But on the other hand, innovating was not an option: creative ability and the initiative of artists were stalled.
When the Middle Ages passed, the first studies about quality management emerged in order to improve sales. Capitalism and the revolutions of the 16th and 20the centuries became very important in this change of paradigm, allowing you to organize these statements as follows:
- Handcrafted production stage: from Ancient History until the beginning of the Middle Ages, handcrafted production assured the customer that the final product would be unique because each product was made differently, customized, without taking into account costs and delay in the process.
- Industrial Revolution: mass production was very important for the growth of nations so in this stage, workers produce a great number of goods without taking into account their quality, since satisfying the demand was their drive. It is characterized by a great exodus of independent workers that were now part of the corporate sector of the first companies.
- World Wars: these wars meant a milestone in the evolution of quality because the empirical control system turned into an almost scientific system. The important countries financed academic sectors so that they work in their favor by developing highly refined arms. Identifying faulty products was vital to assure a positive outcome. The focus is on the technical conditions of the product and on assuring its availability in case they are needed. Here we can find a quality inspector for the first time.
- Posguerra: the tragic results of World War I and World War II made it imperative to produce massively and at high speed to alleviate them. The demand for goods was very high and some countries positioned themselves strategically to make their economies grow.
- Japanese revolution: Japan also was affected after the Wars so it changed its paradigm in order to avoid the detection of faulty products and to focus on assuring the production of goods without flaws. The reduction of costs by preventive controls was part of its strategy. It looked for having satisfied customers and, at the same time, rising above its competitors in terms of quality. Its goal was clear: producing at a low cost, quickly and correctly.
- The 1970s: based on the goals of the Japanese revolution, the 70s were focused on the implementation of internal processes to assure a better quality of products. The production flow and crosswise control became the main allies of companies. At this point, software and technologies at the service of customers emerged and the first companies that used them gained a great economic advantage.
- The 1990s: quality control becomes a must in every area of a company, not just in terms of products or services but also in the whole functioning of the company. Inspectors and managers of different areas focused on achieving effective communication among all the areas so that there were no internal errors. The first quality certificate emerged and globalization standardized control requirements for certain areas.
- At present: nowadays, companies are characterized by the training of quality specialists for each area and a preventive approach instead of corrective actions; present time is highly influenced by software devoted to strengthening processes. Now, it is very important to reduce costs, have a satisfied customer and the concepts of "total quality" and "process re-engineering". At present, companies divide processes by departments or areas; quality managers divide tasks and responsibilities; tasks that do not add value are reduced and the company is seen as a strategic business unit. Now, we can find after-sales guarantees, subcontractors and outsourcing of satellite activities by specialized people that are not part of the company.
Seven principles of Quality Management
Since the Quality area is in charge of overseeing and looking for continuous improvement by coordinating and uniting efforts, some maxims or "principles" of quality management were established.
They are: focusing on understanding customers, understanding their needs and trying to meet their expectations, making every member of the team reach the same standards of excellence, making decisions according to current information and not on improvisations, maintaining good relationships to mutually benefit from it, implementing processes by automation or by using software, leadership through managers, delegating tasks, developing new methods and solving problems, and, finally, focusing on continuous improvement so that crosswise standards are assured.
Functions of the Quality Area
Even if it is in the head of the manager of an area or of a group of work, the functions of continuous improvement managers can be defined as follows:
- Constant participation in the production process, design, and manufacture of products; also, provide solutions and advice so that you can constantly surpass your customers' expectations.
- Assessment of the documents related to the quality processes according to the current legal framework. In some activities, minimum quality standards are not optional but they should assure a minimum quality before introducing the product in the market.
- Leading days of training and improvement of the staff. This way, employees will be trained to foresee any problem before having to solve it. Sanitation prevention is a very important part on which correct quality management relies on.
- Matching the structure with the requirements of the sector, so if you have to apply the ISO 9001 standards to an activity of the company, you can adapt the activity to the framework of these standards.
- Working crosswise in every area. No matter if the company is small or big, the quality area must intervene constantly in the rest of the teams so that it can make sure that the result of the process is spectacular by auditing, monitoring, and testing the product.
- Optimizing costs, time and resources. Currently accompanied by specific software, it can automate processes in order to eliminate human errors and maximize the profitability of the company.
- Risk management. By changing the approach and adopting a strategy based on taking risks, you can take preventive measures that will have a greater impact on the process.
- Leading the innovation in projects. It is widely known that for a company to keep itself competent and aspiring to success it should be innovating constantly by offering customers a new solution for their needs or a more efficient way of satisfying them; to do this, the quality area must be in a continuous search for change.
Quality control in small, medium and large-sized companies
Even though the tasks of the quality area are very similar in small, medium and large-sized companies, some of them vary and will add more value to each of them. On the other hand, in bigger companies, you will have to deal with bigger responsibilities, regulatory frameworks and imposed standards. To that end, we can represent it in the following diagram:
- Small-sized companies: in these companies, it is possible that one person or a small group of people can oversee the quality of production. It will also depend on the sector of the company because it is not the same to sell shoes or food and to sell medicines or medical supplies; each sector will have its own internal regulations. The quality manager of a small company will be in charge of: maintaining excellent quality in the products, managing and guiding innovation, adapting tasks to the regulations of standards such as ISO 9001, designing processes according to the abilities of the workers and coordinating the way in which they work.
- Medium-sized companies: they have between 100 and 1000 employees and they follow quality patterns more standardized and homogenous than the other types of companies. This way, the area should: document the information and adapt it to current legal frameworks, and evaluate risks and adapt the company to environmental management parameters. Constant training and dialogue flow must be the goals of the area in these companies.
- Big-sized companies: they have over 1000 employees and more than one branch, for sure. This type of company will have to devote quality subdepartments to accompany every area. Work can be stipulated so that communication is efficient to keep the quality of the product. It is usual to find different layers of quality control: a team made up of quality directors, managers and auditors, people specialized in training and innovation, legal and tax regulations experts, etc. When the amount of sales is large, the margin of error that can harm the brand is greater; therefore, keeping the quality level is imperative, not just for not decreasing the sales but also to maintain the good name of the brand.
New challenges for SMEs in terms of quality
In the previous sections, we learned that companies should update constantly to technological changes, fashions and the new "needs" of their customers, no matter their sales ability. This modern commercial management approach is widely applicable to SMEs because they are the economic drivers and the most exposed companies to the volatility of markets and the economy, so these companies should adopt the so-called "Total Quality" model to survive.
As regards the new contingencies that SMEs have to face we can find: the constant changes due to globalization that affect the markets of services and products globally; the competitiveness as driving force since, at first, the capital was the most important factor, then, the access to technology was paramount and now, the access to information and data is what marks the competition; the excess of global demand constructs a scenario of profound rivalry among participants; the liberalization of markets to suppress protectionist barriers is very important in the new economy (even though our country is not fostering international commerce properly); the emergence of new low-cost economies such as those from Orient and Asia jeopardize the local production; finally, the constant growth of informal economies.
Because of all this, SMEs should maintain high standards of quality in their production so that they do not suffer unbearable economic consequences.
Total Quality concept
At this point, we need to clarify what specialists mean when they talk about "Total Quality".
As a perspective or paradigm, Total Quality focuses on to cooperate and participate in every area of the company by gathering information, resources and human capital with a particular goal: obtaining a product with real characteristics adapted to the exact need of the customer.
It is important to mention that quality control is not carried out just by one area or to a particular product, but it acts in an interactive way among every member of the company. It acts from the design, production and delivery of the product to the after-sale guarantee, support and constant predisposition to customer experience.
As we previously stated, the Japanese management model meant a very important point in quality evolution since they were the ones who focused on the customer, not on the product. It penetrated into markets in the 1970s and its system expanded until it became the prevailing system at present, which means that it does not matter if a product is perfect, it will not be useful if it does not satisfy customers.
Understanding their wishes, relating with them, working towards fulfilling their needs and accompanying them throughout the process (including after-sales) are the goals of every competent company. This way, we can understand customers according to "Karl Albert's Principles" in the following way: the customer is the most important person for the business; he/she never depends on the company but the other way around (the company depends on him/her); he/she is not just a number or a potential sale, but a being with needs, tastes and preferences we need to fulfill: that is the goal.
That is why some areas have emerged that must be part of a company because they provide reliability and commitment, such as "Customer Service", "Contact" and "After-sales Guarantee".
At present, the quality of the product or service you deliver is the most important part of the business, but that is not it. Understanding the needs of customers, interacting with them, understanding what drives them to consume and why they should come back to the same place: this should be part of the sales strategy of your company if you do not want to be run over by your competitors.