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Matthew Littlefield


Assessing Your Organization’s Quality Maturity

Where does your company stand in relation to these top five challenges?

Published: Monday, January 4, 2016 - 13:19

Although there is no bad time to improve quality management maturity, an optimal time is during fiscal planning for a new year. Executives and quality professionals who are affected by the quality of products or services should ask two questions: “Just how mature is my company’s quality program?” and, “What challenges must be addressed to increase maturity?”

Look at LNS’s quality maturity graphic and take a moment to honestly self-assess. This assessment is based on six dimensions of quality maturity, namely:
• Strategy and execution
• Leadership and culture
• Organizational capabilities
• Business process excellence
• Technology capabilities
• Performance management and key performance indicators (KPIs)

Just how mature is my company’s quality program?

Is it surprising that many, possibly the majority, of companies consider themselves to be at an “ad hoc” or “controlled” maturity level? Often during conversations, executives immediately self-assess at level 1 or level 2. LNS research indicates that only 21 percent of companies have deployed an enterprise quality management system (EQMS). Meanwhile, 53 percent cited quality management issues as the single biggest challenge in speeding products from R&D to the field.

Here are some telltale signs that an organization has ad hoc or controlled quality maturity:
• Does the quality group operate like the “quality police?”
• Do other functions (e.g., development) think that quality activities slow them down but add little value?
• Is a significant portion of a quality professional’s job spent firefighting—performing repetitious corrective actions?
• Are they performing few preventive actions?
• Does it take an exorbitant amount of time to get a quality status or a new cut of data?
• To understand quality performance, is it necessary to “know the right person?”
• Are spreadsheets, emails, and desktop tools the preferred issue tracking and analysis tools?

What challenges must be addressed to increase maturity?

The top five quality management challenges (according to 636 respondents across industry verticals) can be seen in the following graphic:

Because each company has its own internal goals and existing landscape of people, processes, and technology, prioritizing challenges will be company-specific. However, many of these challenges are interrelated. This makes it easier to address a few challenges at once, and possibly move the maturity needle with one or two strategic but broad-sweeping moves.

For example, quality professionals in many low-maturity organizations store much of their critical data on desktops in a mix of spreadsheets, emails, and local applications. This contributes to four of the challenges above: It prevents formal processes, prevents engagement by multiple functions, blocks access and visibility to metrics, and exists as disparate systems. Addressing this issue will affect all four challenges, although other actions may also be necessary to fully address them.

Anecdotally, fragmented systems also contribute to the sense of frustration with quality processes. First, quality is forced into the role of policing compliance when others struggle to get access to the data. Also, quality must be the department that is responsible for—and largely execute—quality processes when there is little automation, and little realized upstream and downstream value. These issues can contribute to a sense that quality is a compliance activity and a cost center, rather than a vital part of an organization’s success.

For instance, compare the value of these two methods of tracking nonconformances:
• Managing nonconformance as a document, without IT connection to specifications, lnternet of Things (IoT) data, or machine data, and with limited querying or analytical capability.
• Managing nonconformance in a system that is connected both to manufacturing operations management (MOM) and specification data, with automated workflow, connected to supplier management, other EQMS processes, and development. Data are analyzed with a real-time business intelligence system, so that all stakeholders can gain immediate access to quality metrics.

Both methods are compliant, but the second method encourages multifunctional engagement, provides access and visibility to metrics (and possibly data deeper than top-level metrics), and makes following processes less labor-intensive, error-prone, and demanding upon practitioners. It’s much easier to proactively prevent future nonconformances with this level of visibility. It’s also easier to appreciate the effect of quality on the company as a whole.

LNS research data back this up. Companies that have deployed EQMS solutions have 8-percent higher overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), and are 35 percent more likely to achieve a five sigma or better rate of defects per million opportunities than companies without plans to deploy EQMS. Companies with an EQMS have 26 percent lower internal cost of poor quality than those without. Data such as these allow decision makers to decide and prioritize based on ROI vs. a “motherhood and apple pie” rationale.

2016: The year of change

Does your 2016 plan include investing in the people, processes, and technology you need to move the dial toward higher quality maturity? If it doesn’t, don’t wait until next year. Quality management maturity is critical to the success of operational excellence (OpEx).


About The Author

Matthew Littlefield’s picture

Matthew Littlefield

Matthew Littlefield is president and principal analyst for LNS Research based in Brookline, Massachusetts. LNS Research provides executives a platform for accessing unbiased research and benchmark data to improve business performance. Littlefield writes for the LNS Research blog where he covers topics including enterprise quality management software, manufacturing operations management, asset performance management, sustainability, and industrial automation 2.0.