Does anyone remember what quality management comprised in the old days, when the world was still largely analog? Digitalization – for some the buzzword of the year, for others the worst word of the year. But one thing is certain: Digitalization has become indispensable today, including, or perhaps especially, in quality management. Digital transformation is a vital process in which quality managers play a key role; in the digital world, they are exposed to new tasks, to new arenas even, that they may not be aware of yet.
Digitalization means change – in terms of corporate processes as well as in quality-related work within organizations. We should not see this change as an end in itself; it is an opportunity to sustainably improve internal as well as cross-company processes. Especially in times in which products are becoming increasingly complex and many things within the company are interrelated, both to other companies and to each other, handling quality data correctly is essential to a company’s success. Thinking in terms of cause and effect, as we so frequently do, is no longer enough, and well-educated quality managers have recognized the opportunity: We need systems expertise. Perhaps no one (yet) assumes that this knowledge can be found in today’s quality management. But what else does overall organization in the context of ISO 9001:2015 mean, if not this precise systemic approach and this exact interplay of many individual elements and interested parties?
This consideration allows us to identify nine relevant arenas with three perspectives for today’s quality management. These describe essential requirements in day-to-day business with a quality management positioned in a future-oriented manner. Depending on target groups and persons, individual arenas may be assigned a higher priority or excluded. At Babtec, our product strategy is aligned with each of these arenas. Building on these, we offer the corresponding content to successfully digitalize quality management.
The Arenas and their Three Perspectives
Arenas 1 to 3 describe the situation of quality management within the company from the perspective of regulatory requirements. Requirements of both customers and standards determine the daily work of many employees in the quality field; quality is often viewed as a duty to be performed, when in reality, quality far exceeds these requirements as a management discipline; the possibilities of digitalization have to be connected to the purpose of the company. Arenas 4 to 6 deal with quality-related work in the context of increasingly complex products, large amounts of data and digital factories. In light of this, actively shaping and advancing the development of the organization is a decisive prerequisite, which is why the quality management situation is described from the corporate management perspective in arenas 7 to 9.
We need a clear understanding of these relevant, quality-related arenas, followed by a concrete implementation plan that does not end at the boundaries of one’s own company, but instead ensures that all interested parties are on board. This requires quality managers to actively seize the initiative. They have to approach their colleagues, make a contribution and discover what organizations are made of: the people behind it, who are passionate and committed to doing good and to achieving good results.
The Arenas in Detail
(Automotive) Core Tools: The (automotive) core tools are six techniques and methods that support the requirements stipulated in IATF 16949, among others, and supplement one another. They comprise Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP), Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA), the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP), statistical process control (SPC) and (the supplementary) 8D method. The automotive core tools were, are and always will be an arena of priority for quality managers.
Requirements, standards, laws: We need to comply with customer requirements, regulations, standards and laws. Quality management faces the challenge of reconciling sometimes ambitious requirements with organizational structures that occasionally have quite the opposite structure and with expectations within one’s own company.
Portfolio protection: Is quality management involved in conversations on necessary changes within the company and future business models? Or does quality management exist in a world of its own that bears little relation to daily business within the company? The third arena follows the first two and ensures that quality management is accepted in times of change. At the same time, it actively contributes to developing the quality manager profession.
More complex products: Making things easier for consumers means increasing complexity for manufacturing companies. Business models are changing and it would be short-sighted to hold on to old and cherished measurement methods and tasks. Anything that can be automated from a technical and economic point of view will be automated. This also applies to quality assurance tasks. Quality management is called upon to face the new opportunities, to review their feasibility and to fully replace old habits with new opportunities, if necessary. Using a process-oriented approach, quality managers can act as interpreters between the technological possibilities and line organizational needs.
First the data, then the action: Many companies are based on the principles of organizational structure and comprise division of labor and control. A consistently systematic approach, however, it is not really systemic. System design, however, has been a requirement since ISO 9001:2015. Many things are connected to one another, and there are many elements that are in constant interrelation to one another within a company (system). And who else could take that data to derive actions that help develop innovations, if not quality managers?
Digital factory/Industry 4.0: What does it take to set up a digital factory and make it successful in the first place? Industry 4.0 and digital factories are characterized by the digitalization and transformation of entire business processes. This doesn’t happen in a linear manner and certainly not in conventional organizational structures. These new, highly complex processes also don’t stop at departmental or even corporate boundaries. Dedicated quality management employees who are xtremely familiar with corporate processes, act in a customer-oriented manner and are trained in balancing the interests of all parties involved, contribute greatly to the successful transformation of business processes, and thus to shaping digital factories.
Context and morals: The ISO 9001:2015 requirements regarding the purpose of the organization, the matter of mission, identification, handling influencing factors and expectations: all of these feed into quality policies. And if a company has embedded quality policies into its corporate culture as opposed to merely posting them on its website for commercial effect, this proves a tremendously important arena for quality managers.
Effectiveness and efficiency: Quality management is, of course, also caught in the triangle of tension which consists of quality, time and costs. In many cases, the priority is to avoid waste and to ensure production as effective and efficient as possible. Based on solid planning, capable employees and processes monitored by KPIs, quality management contributes to efficient and effective processes in this field as well, and
thus contributes to an increase in productivity while preventing defects and rejects.
Change and the future: Doesn’t modern quality management contribute to organizational development, as well? Often positioned in middle management, some quality managers still evade the opportunity to actively shape major, upcoming changes within the organization, despite the fact that a revised prompt to take action has been available for systemic procedure models, including for organizational development, since the revision of ISO 9001:2015. The digitalization of the working world and changing business models are oblivious to departmental boundaries, and they certainly don’t stop at the responsibilities of our quality managers.