Achieving Quality and Excuses for Failure

Jan. 1, 2018
It is worth taking the time and effort to implement a quality management system in your organization and certifying to existing standards.

Success is not inevitable. Excellence is not a certain outcome. The quality of a process, like the entropy of a thermal system, will tend to a maximum state of chaos unless planned and managed. This is true of all aspects of life, from sports to education. It is particularly true in industry, in manufacturing and in the management of technical projects of the manufacturing industries.

In “Only the Paranoid Survive,” a book written more than 20 years ago by Andy Grove while he was CEO of Intel, Grove provided us with a great deal of wisdom on how to run a company, manufacture quality, and face both change and failure. He addressed employees’ resistance to necessary change. But the largest and most important lesson he taught in the book was that failure doesn’t need to be final and that—if faced head on—failure is really an opportunity for improvement.

This is true for both individuals and companies. We need to admit our mistakes, correct the problems encountered, and develop a process that will ensure it is never repeated. The world is filled with stories of companies that failed to follow this piece of wisdom. The best way to produce quality, avoid mistakes and poor products, correct problems and provide continuous improvement is to have and use a quality management system.

Optimation is a founding member of the Control Systems Integrators Association (CSIA), which was founded in 1994 to allow system integrators to get together, learn from each other and improve. By 2000, CSIA had developed a quality management system. It was written specifically around the processes and needs of the independent system integrator. If an integrator implemented it and followed the procedures they put in place, it guaranteed improvement of their processes and products.

And many companies did just that. Those that did improved and most of them grew as well. The results were so clear that many manufacturers of automation products mandated CSIA certification if an integrator wanted to be part of their authorized programs. It impressed many manufacturing firms and municipalities enough that they limited their bid lists to those integrators that were CSIA-certified. CSIA is a large and growing organization with more than 500 members, including more than 100 international members. There are about 400 independent system integrator members, but only about 90 are certified.

What I (and many others) find astonishing is that less than one-quarter of the members are certified to the CSIA quality system. In front of them is clear evidence that it works, but they don’t address it. There are a number of excuses they give for not undertaking certification: It takes too much effort, it costs too much money, or they are already producing high quality. At the same time they are making excuses for not putting a quality management system in place, they complain that they can’t bid on projects that are limited to CSIA-certified firms. Apparently, they entirely miss the point that the objective of having a quality management system—and having it audited by an outside independent auditor—is to improve your company. They fail to understand that they are not as good as they could be. At the same time, they complain that they are losing clients because of poor quality in project delivery. They may not have time to do projects right, but apparently they do have the time to do them over.

CSIA wasn’t the first to identify the need for a quality system, although they were early to join the trend. The international standard for quality, ISO9000, was first introduced in the U.S. in 1987. The early versions of the standard addressed quality control from the perspective and needs of a product manufacturing plant. It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that the standard was redrafted to include, and eventually became focused on, managing quality for service providers. Quality standards were adopted by schools and hospitals, as well as professional service firms.

When implemented under a quality management system, every process in every service industry can be provided consistently and at a high quality if uniform and repeatable processes are implemented, used, audited and documented. In addition to several stakeholder benefits, a number of studies have identified significant financial benefits for organizations certified to ISO9001. The results are similar to results achieved by certified members of CSIA. A 2011 survey from the British Assessment Bureau showed that 44 percent of their ISO9001-certified clients had won new business. They also showed that certified organizations achieved superior return on investment compared with similar organizations without certification. Additionally, they found overall superior performance in these firms, and demonstrated that this was statistically significant and not just a function of organization size.

Having said all this about the value and importance of having a quality management system, I don’t want to imply that it is easy for an uncertified firm to become certified. It does take work. Anything of real value does. There are often difficulties in following through with quality control standards. Implementation often requires change and development. Employees and managers often resist change; they like to stay in their comfort zone and do things the way they’ve always done them. But change is essential for improvement.

A quality system like the CSIA standard is not complex; it is just complete. It provides the structure to allow for success. Documented processes help in many ways. Activities run smoothly when responsibilities are clearly assigned. Defects are more easily identified. Quality is improved.

I am always hopeful that uncertified CSIA members will see the light and make a decision to put in the effort. And for companies in other areas, I encourage you to find a standard, such as ISO9001, that works for you, and take the time and effort to implement a quality management system for yourself.

Bill Pollock is president and CEO of Optimation Technology Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Optimation, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.