Is Quality Management Broken?

Why the typical approach to quality management doesn't fit today's digital age.

Posted on 
August 12, 2020
Laura Foti
CMO, Specright
Take control of your quality management

Here’s how a typical approach to quality management works.

Step One. Discover a problem.

Step Two. Document it.

Step Three. Start contacting everyone involved until it’s resolved (I should note, it usually takes more than three steps to fix).

Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but hang with me for a second. Now that we’ve discussed how typical quality management works, take a second to think about your life as a consumer. What do you care about when you buy products?

Why is quality management important?

If you’re like me, you want the product to fulfill the promise that brand made to you. It’s the most basic definition of customer satisfaction. If it’s food, it should typically be fresh and safe; you know, table stakes.

I have similar expectations when I buy makeup or household cleaning products - that everything from the package to the product should work. I don’t talk about quality, I talk about the product.

Quality management is the means by which brands can ensure products get to market and fulfill their promise to consumers.

Which leads me to why quality management is broken.

What’s a Quality Management System?

Before we dive into why it’s broken, let’s quickly define what quality management systems were designed to do. According to Wikipedia, the term “Quality Management System” and “QMS” was invented in 1991 by a guy named Ken Croucher, a management consultant serving clients in the IT industry.

It’s worth noting that these systems are typically described as managing business processes or a series of standards.

Why quality management software was the wrong approach to managing quality

Existing quality systems are quality-centric, not product-centric. They don’t take into account total quality management across the supply chain.

And if you’re not managing the quality of your products, what are you really managing?

I know what you’re thinking right now. “Managing process is just as important as managing product.”

And to that I would say, sure! But managing quality without an inherent connection to products and manufacturing is pretty ineffective in this day and age.

It’s like saying you have access to email, so you don't need Facebook to keep in touch with your friends. The typical QMS approach was designed to manage issues, not prevent or better understand them in the first place.

And that’s the problem.

A new approach to quality that’s product-centric

So what’s the right approach to quality management and quality improvement? The key is not starting with quality - it’s starting with your products. More specifically, managing all the data it takes to make them.

We call this Specification Management.

The premise of Specification Management is that you manage your products from the ground up - from individual specs to bill of materials and finished goods. Only then do you layer on quality tools like the ability to log SCARs, track COAs, and conduct audits and so on. Every quality record or production process must be tied to the specification (aka traceability nirvana). The same goes for regulatory requirements and industry standards. Successful quality initiatives must be product-centric.

How Specification Management can drive intelligent, product-centric quality

Here are the main components of driving continuous improvement across your supply chain system:

  1. You digitize all of your specs and share them across your network so everyone’s on the same page (departments, suppliers, co-mans, etc.). This instantly cuts down on issues due to outdated specs.
  2. You set up basic steps and guardrails to prevent quality issues from occurring (i.e. this spec can’t go to this finished good because of an allergen claim).
  3. You automate & ingest other quality data (i.e. production & supplier) to get a 360 degree view of your products. You’d be amazed at what real-time vs. weekly data reveals.
  4. You analyze data as it relates to your products to help with decision making or trouble shooting (i.e. root cause analysis that reveals what went wrong and how).
  5. You can spend more time on quality audits, continuous improvement and building market share and less time managing data.

Don’t just take it from me. One of our users said it best.

“Managing our data has allowed us to start transitioning from being reactive to proactive in our processes.”

- Senior Quality Manager, Soylent

What happens from here?

We’re living in the information age. When it comes to quality, being able to use technology to prevent issues from occurring in the first place will become the new status quo.

We think there are two paths forward for quality professionals:

  1. They can keep using the same methods and wait for something to go very wrong
  2. They can adopt a new approach to quality that’s product-centric, built for the digital age, and that will set them up for long-term success

Which path will you pick? That’s what we’re working on at Specright.


Laura Foti

Laura leads marketing and investor relations at Specright. Prior to Specright, she led advertising and analytics at GE Digital, GE’s Industrial Internet software business. Before that, she was a consultant at Deloitte Digital working in enterprise digital transformation, where she helped clients design and deploy eCommerce experiences, develop revenue-driving mobile apps, and reimagine their global digital marketing strategy. Laura was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for marketing and advertising and Brand Innovators 40 Under 40 and 100 Women to Watch lists. She graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She resides in Newport Beach, CA.

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