Quality management leaders have it hard these days. Growing product complexities, increasing customer expectations, supply chain disruptions, rising costs, step-change organizational goals, and directives to reduce time-to-market create a virtual pressure cooker for those leading industrial quality efforts.
Adding to this pressure are some of the old school ways in which quality is often still 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. Moreover, quality has also taken on the imprecise image of being strictly compliance-based, with the leaders of quality often viewed as “policing” the organization while others half-heartedly embrace quality because “someone said I had to do this.”
With so much on the quality leader’s plate, it’s only logical that they’ve had to step up their game. “Playing by the old rules for 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 the work of quality and using new insights by connecting data together in context.”
According to a recent report from LNS Research, early adopters of Industrie 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 component of emerging Quality 4.0 improvements, it falls short when it comes to the organizational and cultural challenges that quality leaders must also face.
According to LNS Research, there are several elements across people, process, and technology that should be included in an organization’s Quality 4.0 strategy, including empowering plant operators with a connected frontline workforce program, building on existing management and production systems with digital enhancements and agile methodologies, and leveraging a holistic data architecture strategy. The latter includes steps like developing robust machine connectivity in the plant, implementing a common data model across IT and OT (operations technology) data, and creating date custodian roles (e.g., data engineers).
But while technology is certainly important, it should only come into consideration after alignment to business goals is achieved, which includes developing strategic initiatives from those goals and defining the architecture.
In addition to enhancements in processes and technology, perhaps most important to creating true transformation with Quality 4.0 are the people strategies. Taking the holistic approach to Quality 4.0 and scaling it beyond the focus of just one department is key. To combat the traditional obstacles to quality and better manage all the spinning plates quality leadership must regularly handle, it’s important to integrate quality across the complete value chain. This means integrating the entire company, suppliers, and customers.
“Manufacturing and operations teams consider themselves responsible for producing and shipping products out the door and perceive quality as a roadblock to success, rather than a business partner,” said Vivek Murugesan, senior research associate at LNS Research. “Here begins the organizational disconnect that leads to challenges, such as siloed systems, duplicate sources of data, and inadequate support from IT, leadership, and other teams.”
To avoid this disconnect, companies need to nurture a culture of quality. According to LNS Research, this includes driving executive credibility, stating mission and vision, imparting core values, and building on existing norms and management systems.
Most organizations, especially the ones actively pursuing a transformation initiative, are aware of the importance of the culture of quality. However, LNS Research has found only very few companies are successful at creating it because most don’t align their departmental goals to the broader organizational reality.
Moreover, Wells states that, in setting and achieving organizational goals, it’s important not to set overly aggressive objectives because it often leads to failure. Rather, leaders who set very big but still achievable goals meet their goals most of the time. “In the drive to change the culture of quality, don’t aim too high, too soon,” said Wells.
The bottom line is this: Quality management leaders must nurture a culture of quality in their organizations to have a chance at the meaningful transformation that a Quality 4.0 initiative should bring. This also will help defeat the perception that quality is synonymous with policing. Only then can quality achieve the desired “trusted business partner” status that it needs within a company to set the stage for industrial transformation.