May 5, 2017
A common complaint from senior management and staff of community organisations is that they spend all their time managing their quality system rather than getting on with the job of delivering quality services.
An efficient Quality Management System (QMS) should free up resources rather than consume them.
So what is the problem?
There are a number of possible reasons why your quality system is not delivering the results you are looking for.
- The structure of the QMS does not match the size of the organisation or does not have the capacity to meet the changing needs and growth of the organisation
- Lack of total commitment from senior management
- Staff across all levels do not fully understanding the system
- Data and information gathered by the system is either lost or not used effectively
- Duplication of effort and risk of errors in maintaining manual systems.
Designing your quality system
Just like all other aspects of your organisation, your QMS needs to be planned to ensure it meets your service needs and requirements. The design and implementation of the QMS is influenced by:
- Organisational environment, changes and risks
- Varying system needs
- Organisational objectives
- Services / products provided
- The size and structure of the organization.
It is important to define the key organisational processes and activities that need to be monitored to ensure they are functioning effectively. This includes administration, management and governance systems as well as operational functions.
It is equally important to determine how you will measure the effectiveness of those processes.
Typically, this is achieved by developing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs are used to:
- Quantify and evaluate organisational performance
- Set measurable objectives
- Monitor trends
- Identify opportunities for improvements
- Support decision making.
Examples of KPIs include unit cost of service delivery, level of procedural compliance, number of client / customer complaints, staff retention rate, response times and lost time injuries.
Another important monitoring tool is the internal audit. An audit is an evidence gathering process that evaluates how well your documented policies, procedures and work instructions match up with actual work practice. Audits need to be objective, impartial, and independent, and the audit process should be both systematic and documented. When designing your QMS, make sure to cover all key organisational processes and activities in your audit schedule.
Critical considerations when developing your QMS are how you will fix problems or make sure service improvement ideas are implemented. A common observation is that in the busy-ness of a dynamic organisation, these actions are not followed up in a timely manner – if at all! This not only weakens the integrity of your quality system but also potentially exposes your organisation to additional risks and litigation. An effective QMS will include a systematic process for ensuring service improvement requests are assigned to the responsible personnel, implemented and verified.
Document control is a critical element of any QMS. As with other systems, document control is more successful if it’s simple, intuitive and user-friendly. ISO 9001 provides a very useful framework for developing a document control procedure. This includes clarification of the process for
- Approval of documents to ensure they are appropriate before they are issued
- Reviewing and updating documents to align with changing organisational needs
- Ensuring only current versions of documents are available to staff
Without effective control of documents, you cannot be sure your organisation can consistently provide quality services to meet your clients’ needs.
Your QMS must have the capacity to meet the growth of your organisation. Too often, organisations are focussed on the expansion of their services without considering the impact this has on their systems. This results in inefficient use of resources, increased workloads, unhappy staff, increased exposure to risk and, ultimately, reduced quality of service.
Commitment from the Top
A key responsibility of the Board is to develop and implement the organisation’s Strategic Plan and to communicate a vision of the future. Primary objectives in any Strategic Plan should be a commitment to meeting client requirements and continuous service improvement. This can be achieved by integrating strategic planning and budgeting processes with quality processes and agendas.
The Board must support the senior management team in promoting a “culture of quality” – ensuring every person in the organisation is fully involved in achieving your organisation’s quality objectives.
The senior management team must take responsibility for continuously improving the quality of services and actively engage their staff in the process. Successful strategies include leading by example, generating group discussions, communicating organisational expectations through staff inductions and training and celebrating achievements.
Quality is everybody’s business!
Personal engagement at all levels of your organisation is essential if you are really serious about quality. It is surprising how many employees do not understand the important part they play in the overall quality of the services provided. “Quality” may be perceived as a management activity or an onerous add-on to their heavy workloads.
Staff are the “eyes and ears” of your organisation. Tell them so. Their skills, observations and suggestions provide insight into opportunities for improvement and cement positive relationships with your clients … if they are listened to and acted upon.
Your QMS needs to be accessible and transparent. There should be clearly communicated processes for personnel across all levels to raise issues or make suggestions for service improvement. The system should ensure that people are acknowledged for their contribution and kept informed of outcomes.
Other strategies for engaging people in the QMS are:
- Including quality related KPIs in all Position Descriptions
- Providing recognition through rewards and incentives
- Including quality topics in your induction and training program
- Including “Continuous Improvement” as a standing item on every meeting agenda.
Measure what you do
A wealth of data and documentation about operational performance is collected every day; case notes, production reports, attendance records, meeting minutes, operational reports and financial statements.
For many organisations, however, this documentation is not organised and results in wasted time and effort collecting irrelevant or inappropriate information. Without clarity of purpose, information is either lost or ineffective to the pursuit of continuous improvement.
A well planned and maintained QMS provides senior management with a systematic way for collating this data and interpreting the information to determine if quality KPIs are being met.
“We have got registers for our registers!!”
The maintenance of accurate records and documentation is far more than just a statutory requirement. This information contributes to the organisational knowledge that drives continuous improvement.
A key contributing factor to the ineffectiveness of the QMS for many organisations is their dependence on manually maintained registers and spreadsheets. Consider this scenario.
- A formal complaint is received by a Regional Manager.
- The Regional Manager enters the complaint in the Site Complaints Register.
- The Regional Manager resolves the issues and emails a copy of the report to Head Office.
- Head Office enters the complaint on the Organisational Complaints Register.
- The Organisational Complaints Register is reviewed at the monthly Executive Team Meeting and the need for corrective action is identified.
- A Service Improvement Request (SIR) is logged in the Organisational SIR Register.
- The Regional Manager is notified and the SIR is logged on the Regional SIR Register.
- Corrective Action is completed by the Regional Manager. The SIR is closed out and Head Office is advised.
- Head Office closes out the SIR on the Organisational SIR Register.
Clearly, this is a slow and cumbersome process, with the potential for omissions and mistakes.
Implementing an integrated electronic monitoring system is a cost effective and time efficient way for organisations to track, monitor and measure their QMS. These programs automate the process, reducing input time as well as operational risks associated with uncompleted actions – for example, compliance or statutory requirements.
Some factors to consider when choosing support software are:
- Capacity to incorporate your organisation’s processes
- Security of your information
- Searching and reporting capacity
- Is it user friendly?
Whichever product you choose, it is important to remember that its implementation alone will not guarantee quality of your services or compliance with quality standards. Software systems are simply tools to support sound quality and business management principles.
Like manual systems, automated systems require three fundamental ingredients for maximum effect; input of good information, monitoring of activity and acting on conclusions.
The value of an automated system lies in its simplicity and ease of use, its accessibility by all, its speed and accuracy collating data, its interpretation of that data and its ability to produce rapid and positive results.