Monday, September 1, 2008

What Makes a Quality Management Plan Effective?

Have you ever had a problem that required implementing quality control methods, but you didn't know where to start? Proper project development requires a quality management plan to ensure that time and cost objectives and standards are met.

Depending on the needs of the project, a quality management plan can be formal or informal, detailed or broad. The best plans address the three aspects of quality—quality control, quality assurance, and quality improvement—and feature operational definitions as well as any procedures and standards.

Quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement
To provide direction and focus for project plan development, your plan should include details about quality control, quality assurance, and quality improvement measures.
  • Quality Control - monitors products for conformance to the quality standards and identifies ways to eliminate substandard work or failures. It requires detailed instructions based on the operational definitions, or measurements, for the project.
  • Quality Assurance - audits the organizational structures, responsibilities, procedures and processes of a project to ensure that the quality plan is providing effective feedback.
  • Quality Improvement - is the outcome of the quality assurance and quality control processes. A design experiment may be required to determine if there are new operating norms or if the new procedures will work. It may prevent re-occurrences of quality issues.
Operational definitions
Next, your plan must define what needs to be measured. Before the plan can be fully developed, the following operational definitions need to be identified:
  • What quality aspects will be measured?
  • How will each quality aspect be measured?
  • When will each quality aspect be measured?
Defining what needs to be measured can be the hardest part of the operational definition process. The governing rule should be to measure anything that can be variable in nature, whether the item to be measured is a human, a machine, a product, a procedure or process, or the environment.

Most final products require some sort of measurement to ensure conformance to subjective and objective standards. Subjective standards are difficult to measure. How exactly do you measure the aesthetic appeal of flowers? Objective standards require detailed measurements including destruction testing.

Forms can be developed to record objective and subjective measurements. Objective standards include strength, time, cost and measurement criteria. These need explicit data requiring detailed inspection processes and forms. Subjective standards, such as aesthetic standards, are most often measured using checklists with comment sections.

Determining how often to measure quality is another aspect of the operational definition process. Some of the most obvious times to test quality are:
  • upon delivery of raw materials - This determines if the supplier is meeting your standards. Items should also be inspected after prolonged storage, especially if they are environmentally or corrosion sensitive. Not every item needs to be inspected. Sampling techniques can be used.
  • at end of major stages in a process - It is often cost effective to inspect at the end of a sub- process to ensure substandard material does not progress further. This prevents wasted time, materials, and expensive rework procedures.
  • upon changes in operating conditions - An appropriate time to measure is after changes to procedures, processes, machinery settings and human operators. This can take place at different intervals: every few minutes, hourly, each shift, weekly, monthly, or yearly. The time sensitivity of the process determines the frequency.
  • upon completion of job lots - Many products are often produced in lots, partly as a function of the inputs process, but also as a function of testing and tracking of outputs. It is cheaper to throw out a small lot than an entire day's production run.
Ultimately, deciding when and how often to measure quality is a cost versus quality issue. Every item or stage of a project could be inspected, but the inspection costs may outweigh the final value.

Procedures and standards
The final component of a sound quality management plan involves procedures and checklists. Quality processes and standards should become routine and may be taught and enforced through procedures in the form of checklists.

Checklists confirm whether quality control standards have been followed. They can be instructive by outlining what needs to be done by saying, "Do Y." Process checklists also ensure certain tasks have been done by asking, "Has X been completed?" In some processes or projects, inspection checklists can gather data on the number of times tasks have or have not been performed adequately.

Checklists ensure that process steps are not overlooked or forgotten. They also ensure that the product does not advance to the next process before necessary tasks are done. This prevents costly rework if changes are required.

In some cases, companies perform work to certain external standards as expressed in governmental or association regulations or guidelines. If this is the case with your project, you can develop checklists which include standards.

Project quality is only as good as the quality management plan. To ensure project quality, the plan must be well thought out and rehearsed. Project quality can be ensured by a complete understanding of: quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement; operational definitions; and checklists and standards.

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