Quality managers are having a hard time these days. Increasing product complexity, increasing customer expectations, supply chain disruptions, rising costs, incremental organizational goals and guidelines to shorten time-to-market are creating a virtual pressure cooker for those leading industrial-quality efforts.
This pressure is compounded by some of the old-fashioned ways in which quality is often perceived. Traditionally, industrial quality management has been considered the responsibility of only a specific team or department, not the entire company, as it should be. In addition, quality has also acquired the inaccurate image of being strictly compliance-based, with quality leaders often seen as “overseeing the organization” while others half-heartedly embrace quality because “someone told me to do this”.
With so much on the quality leaders’ board, it’s only natural that they had to step up their game. “Meeting the old rules of quality is no longer competitive in the modern industrial digital age,” said James Wells, research analyst at LNSResearch† “Quality leaders are now leveraging digital technologies and tools to minimize the bureaucracy of quality work and harness new insights by connecting data in context.”
According to a recent report from LNS Research, early adopters of Industry 4.0 methodologies are leveraging real-time sensor data, smart machines and advanced analytics as part of their quality management processes. But while technology is certainly an important part of emerging Quality 4.0 improvements, it falls short when it comes to the organizational and cultural challenges that quality leaders also face.
According to LNS Research, there are several people, process and technology elements that should be incorporated into an organization’s Quality 4.0 strategy, including strengthening factory operators with a connected frontline workforce program, building on existing management and manufacturing systems with digital improvements and agile methodologies and leveraging a holistic data architecture strategy. The latter includes steps such as developing robust machine connectivity in the factory, implementing a common data model for IT and OT (operations technology) data, and creating data custodians (e.g., data engineers).
But while technology is certainly important, it should only be considered after alignment with business goals has been achieved, including developing strategic initiatives from those goals and defining the architecture.
In addition to improvements in processes and technology, people strategies are arguably the most important for creating true transformation with Quality 4.0. It is essential to take the holistic approach of Quality 4.0 and scale it beyond the focus of just one department. To combat the traditional barriers to quality and better manage all rotating plates, it is important to integrate quality throughout the value chain. This means that the entire company, suppliers and customers are integrated.
“Production and operations teams see themselves as responsible for manufacturing and shipping products out the door and see quality as a roadblock to success rather than a business partner,” said Vivek Murugesan, senior research associate at LNS Research. “This is where the organizational decoupling starts that leads to challenges such as silo systems, duplicate data sources, and insufficient support from IT, leadership and other teams.”
To avoid this disconnection, companies must foster a culture of quality. According to LNS Research, this includes boosting executive credibility, formulating mission and vision, imparting core values and building on existing standards and management systems.
Most organizations, especially those actively pursuing a transformation initiative, are aware of the importance of the quality culture. However, LNS Research has found that very few companies succeed in creating it because most do not align their departmental goals with the broader organizational reality.
In addition, Wells argues that when setting and achieving organizational goals, it is important not to set overly aggressive goals, as this often leads to failure. On the contrary, leaders who set very large but still achievable goals usually achieve their goals. “In the drive to change the quality culture, don’t aim too high and too early,” Wells said.
The bottom line is this: quality management leaders must nurture a culture of quality in their organizations to stand a chance of the meaningful transformation that a Quality 4.0 initiative should bring. This will also help beat the perception that quality is synonymous with policing. Only then can quality achieve the desired ‘trusted business partner’ status it needs within a company to pave the way for industrial transformation.