The goal of any manufacturing-based going concern is to have, amongst other things, proper product quality control. This is only natural since it is expected that every manufacturing outfit pays very close attention to its total quality management regime. If the ultimate goals, cost minimization and profit maximization, are to be attained. As a matter of fact, the top management of various firms is beginning to allocate more resources to ensure the firm has adequate quality control.
Around the early ’90s, the term and practice known as Total Quality Management (TQM) were born. It was first championed by the Japanese who experienced tremendous growth and success with it, that the rest of the world (Europe, in particular) began to adopt it.
Despite the seemingly obvious merits/advantages that this practice brings to the firm, there are issues/problems which threaten to dampen its effectiveness. If left unaddressed, such issues can take the firm by surprise and give way to negative consequences.
What is a Quality Issue?
Throughout the process of manufacturing, issues may occur that affect production. The end result of these issues are defects, deficiencies, or significant variations in the final product’s expected performance or appearance. But other issues including, interruptions along the supply chain, long lead times, and too much inventory.
So more broadly speaking, quality issues aren’t only with the final product, but all the things that can go wrong leading up to its production. If unnoticed, or worse, unchecked, these can cause wide-spread hindrances to productivity and organizational cohesion.
Contemporary Issue Management
After extensive research, there are about 12 issues that are deemed the most noteworthy by the firm. These issues range across various manufacturing tiers/levels.
Quality Management Issues/Problems
Below is a list of some pressing quality management issues experienced by manufacturing firms today;
- Over-reliance on theory
- Excess documentation
- Managing by department
- Tight bureaucracy
- Supply chain complexity
- Lack of resources and time
- Insufficient motivation
- Resistance to Technology
- Lack of quality equipment
- Non-compatibility with company policies
- Lack of employee engagement and communication
- No training and development
Furthermore, the next line of action will be to examine these issues in detail, especially on how they affect the organization.
Over-Reliance on Theory
In a bid to have and implement what firms refer to as ‘the perfect total quality management regime,’ they tend to go a bit overboard and concentrate on the wrong things. In recent times, organizations have begun to fixate on theory exclusively. As a result of this, they no longer strive to put theory into actual practice. The reality, however, is that there is no ‘perfect total quality management regime.’ Each firm should focus on improving and bettering its own TQM. By putting it into practice, the theory itself is useless as it is not an end but rather a means to an end.
Furthermore, the firm’s over-dependency on theory alone poses a clog in TQM’s progressive wheel. Firms should practice TQM, which will make the organization more effective and allow it to achieve its goals. Ultimately, the firm’s value will increase.
Due to TQM’s elaborate nature, a lot of documentation may be necessary for its functionality. However, when the emphasis on documentation becomes too much, that said functionality is threatened and affected. It has been discovered that employees and even the top management can sometimes get overwhelmed with the excess documentation, which makes them disillusioned with the whole process. The result of these challenges is that the TQM process no longer serves its purpose/goal.
Paperwork in itself is useful for the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the process. However, it should not be the focal point of the TQM process. The TQM process is not aimed at creating excess documentation. Documents are to be used for communication, proof of the result, and for knowledge management within the organization.
Managing by Department
Isolating the work of quality control to one single department is a part of the old business paradigm. It dictates that only the department of quality control or quality assurance is tasked with safeguarding the accurate manufacturing of the firm’s products.
But more strategic thinking today holds that the organization must have a more integrated approach. Every department should see itself as a part of the whole, with the whole being responsible for producing a quality product. What happens on the shop floor is only the end result of how the entire organization operates.
Creating a culture of quality within the whole firm will produce creativity and productivity. This culture must be exemplified and clearly communicated, from the top down, to be sufficient for change.
When a firm’s total quality management regime is proving to be too rigid, problems are sure to arise. One of the downsides of this rigidity is the inability to adjust when necessary. This can ultimately affect the organization’s effectiveness and its ability to accomplish goals.
TQM requires a free-flowing organizational structure to be implemented successfully. When the firm’s structure is too rigid, the overall effectiveness of TQM will be restricted. Research has shown that the reason many European firms have shaky TQM is because of their very tight/rigid structure.
The business world and the market (inclusive of customer needs and requirements) are constantly evolving. As such, it is expected of the firm to evolve alongside them. However, the evolution of a very rigid firm is a task that proves very difficult. Moreover, static and backward firms cannot exploit the various new emerging opportunities in Total Quality Management practice.
Supply Chain Complexity
Globalization has been a blessing and a curse to the manufacturing industry. It has made it possible for firms to expand where production costs are lower, and where the raw materials and qualified workforce they need are in greater supply. But expanding into different regions has created another problem – supply chain issues.
The finished products, partially-finished materials, related information, and the flow and storage of raw materials, all must be moved from point A to point B. The logistics of getting these things from the place of origin to the customer has become complicated and requires a higher level of oversight and expertise.
Lack of Resources and Time
Back to the outdated belief that each department has its own responsibilities, upper management has not been willing to allocate sufficient time and resources to quality control. Traditionally, they have not felt responsible for fixing errors or flaws that challenge quality. They see the expenditure of time as taking away from their separate duties and would rather relegate these to a single department. They failed to see the seriousness of the situation.
According to the LNS Research 2012-2013 Quality Management Survey, management still sees quality as a department and not as the concern of the whole firm. Poor quality comes at a cost to the firm. To mitigate this cost, the entire firm must embrace quality as a collective responsibility, and devote to it the resources and time it requires to become optimal in all respects.
Most times, manufacturing firms tend to make the mistake of adopting TQM practices only because of some outward or external factors. Such factors include competitors’ adoption of TQM, a request by customers, the pressure to evolve with the industry, etc. When this happens, there will be no inward drive/motivation from the employees to ensure that the TQM process is top-notch—ultimately leading to the failure of the process.
Whatever the firm’s top management chooses to adopt should not be to the detriment of the employees. All policies and practices taken should be done in line with the employees as they are the ones who will be the chief executors of any project. The management always needs to keep them motivated.
Platforms for both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards should be provided. Some intrinsic rewards may include a deep sense of fulfillment, while extrinsic rewards may consist of financial bonuses.
Resistance to Technology
Technology makes it possible for firms to improve significantly and innovate, systems, processes, and skillsets. This all points to much-improved quality on the shop floor, and a smoother running firm overall.
While employees and middle management tend to embrace the changes and improvements, technology is often met with resistance at the higher levels. New technologies are often viewed by upper management as consuming too much time and resources and unnecessary in some circumstances. This resistance has created a barrier to improved quality.
Upper management and entire firms can be devoted to their legacy systems and resist change. Most systems represent a substantial investment of time and resources for the firm, and are not easily or willingly replaced. This is understandable. However, as we see in the cautionary tale of the steel and automobile manufacturers in the United States, firms cannot afford to be sluggish to utilize new technology. It is a misstep that can prove fatal to a firm.
Lack of Quality Equipment
Quality equipment and quality-related production equipment represent a substantial financial investment for a firm. This equipment must be reliable and well-maintained. While many companies are quick to spot problems and deficiencies, they are not as ready to invest in quality equipment. Dedicated teams may prioritize and see to the repair, refurbishment, and replacement of equipment promptly.
Firm finances must be allocated for these needs ahead of time so that resources are not wasted. While companies expect the best from the shop floor, they need to be willing to provide up-to-date and efficient equipment. The cost of poor quality to a firm cannot be compared with the costs of quality equipment.
Non-Compatibility with Company Policies
For a total quality management process to achieve its intended goals, it must be a strategic and best fit for the company. Such a strategic fit is achieved when the company goals, objectives, and policies are in tune with the TQM process. No matter how ‘ready to use’ a TQM process may seem, if it is not in line with the firm’s policies, then it is already bound to fail.
The company needs to establish the best way to achieve its TQM goals, and it should be aligned with company policies. Some TQM models, such as ISO 9001, have been criticized on the grounds of being too result-oriented and leaving out how such results can be achieved in line with the company policies and objectives.
Lack of Employee Engagement and Communication
To cultivate a positive company ethos, employees must feel included and informed. This communication must also be reciprocated, with plenty of employee input. This level of engagement goes toward a productive and creative work environment.
Connections between employees and management are crucial as a firm progresses, to provide company cohesion and success. Communication cannot be left to one person but should be considered the work of everyone. When communication lines are neglected, even the most well-meaning initiatives can be misunderstood – leaving employees feeling as though something has been done to them and not for them.
One survey concluded that while companies attempt to make positive changes, their success was limited because they failed to involve the employees. Corrective actions, training needs assessments, and continuous improvement initiatives, all need employee buy-in, so must be adequately communicated from start to finish.
Methods of communication can include monthly meetings, posting (current) results, newsletters, etc. A monthly walk-through of various areas of the firm by managers to see first-hand employee work conditions and obtain employee input can also be very useful.
Related: Identifying and Avoiding QC Issues
No Training and Development
There is often a rush to get new employees working, so training is minimal and brief. This presents problems over time as many employees can feel inadequately trained for their positions. This lack of confidence may or may not be shared with management. There can be a fear of reprisals, like a reprimand for not remembering everything from the initial training, or losing the position altogether.
Trainings should be documented and demonstrate all that is required for the tasks, with considerations for past experience and expert level. They should include full job descriptions, how to perform the job, and practical opportunities. The employee should feel comfortable asking follow-up questions, and possibly, have a mentor assigned.
It is not difficult to see that people who feel confident doing their jobs are more likely to do them well. Training and continual opportunities for further development must be part of the firm’s operation system.
Quality Management issues need to be tackled quickly if the organization wants to reap the full benefits of the TQM process. The first way to combat a problem is to identify it. The quality management issues discussed can act as a checklist for a firm determined to have an excellent TQM process.
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