Quality management: then, now and in the future

Quality management: then, now and in the future

The reach and depth of quality assurance and quality improvement have been greatly expanded, given increases in technology and the adoption of the principles of continuous quality improvement. We take a look at the evolution of quality management.

The concept of “quality” has evolved to mean far more than the integrity of a manufactured product. Quality now represents a philosophy and a system of methodologies and practices. It is an ongoing commitment to business excellence that encompasses all issues – and engages all individuals – within an organisation.

Where did it start?

The use of inspection to assure conformity to specific requirements dates back to the Middle Ages. For instance, craft guilds established standards to differentiate their goods and safeguard the reputation of their trade. Skilled craftsmen performed inspections and problems were remedied right there at the workbench.

Through the early years of low-volume manufacturing, informal inspection of products and arbitrary review of worker output sufficed. As organisations and production yields became larger during the Industrial Revolution, the need for “quality control” through more effective operations became evident.

In 1911, the concept of quality took a huge leap forward when Frederick W. Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management, using statistical theory to provide a framework for improving worker productivity in industrial organisations. Taylor introduced several important concepts, including:

• Functional specialisation: defining and allocating tasks to be performed under standard conditions (with inspection as just one of the tasks);

• Process analysis of time and motion to increase productivity; and

• Quality control (by inspection of the final product) formalised as a distinct function conducted by individuals not directly involved in the production process.

Taylor’s contributions are recognised as precursors to several engineering tools and methods to reduce cycle time, which are still in use today. While Taylor focused on productivity gains, in the 1920s, Walter Shewhart introduced quality control as a proactive function rooted in process, rather than relying strictly on reactive measures resulting from inspection.

Applying statistical theory to the management of quality, Shewhart developed the first modern control chart and demonstrated that eliminating variation in the process leads to a good standard of end products.

He also pioneered the Shewhart Learning and Improvement Cycle, which contains four continuous steps leading to total quality improvement: Plan, Do, Study and Act – later adapted by W. Edwards Deming (one of his protégés) as the PDSA cycle.

Shewhart’s belief that constant evaluation of management practices, as well as the willingness of management to embrace new ideas and disregard unsupported ones, form the philosophical basis for several of today’s quality management methodologies.

Deming went on to stress the importance of management’s role in the delivery of quality, both at the individual and company level. According to him, 80 to 90 percent of quality problems were under the control of management. He emphasised organisation-wide cultural change and worker/management cooperation as the path to achieving high quality.

Since 1947, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has developed management and leadership standards for businesses, governments and communities. These range from environmental management to business applications of risk and quality management.

The ISO 9000 series are standards that focus specifically on quality management and quality assurance. They were developed to help companies achieve customer satisfaction, continuous improvement and regulatory requirements, as well as effectively document the elements needed to maintain an efficient quality system.

The series now includes ISO 9000:2005 (definitions), ISO 9001:2008 (requirements) and ISO 9004:2009 (continuous improvement), and is based on eight quality management principles that can be applied by management for organisational improvement:

• Customer focus

• Leadership

• Involvement of people

• Process approach

• System approach to management

• Continual improvement

• Factual approach to decision-making

• Mutually beneficial supplier relationships

After a major update in 2000, the new standards are built around business processes, emphasising improvement and meeting the needs of customers. Adaptable to all types of organisations, ISO 9001 is unique in that it specifies the requirements for a quality management system, as well as providing tools and a philosophical basis.

What does the future hold?

Deming proposed that an organisation’s commitment to quality signalled its intent to stay in business. As industries today face the fierce competition of a global economy, his statement remains as true as ever.

At the 2010 Global Forum on ISO Updates, a new category of standards for social responsibility and sustainability were introduced, as were increased standards for sectors such as local governments, oil and gas, and education.

With healthcare reform’s call for bundled services, accountable care and pay for performance, quality management is rapidly becoming as firmly entrenched in the culture of service organisations as it has been in manufacturing.

The healthcare industry’s need is fuelling the growth of integrated quality management systems (IMS) to find the correct balance between quality, risk, environmental and social-responsibility, costs and efficiencies.

Moreover, the lightning speed at which technology is changing products, services and delivery methods, requires large organisations to be ever more adaptable and agile. The challenge for quality managers moving into the future is largely about allowing for change in a field that relies on constants.

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