What is continual improvement of the quality management system? It is the big picture. It is looking at the performance of all the sub-processes that make the whole process, from getting the customer specifications and orders, to making sure the parts arrives on-time, at a reasonable cost and in a useable form.
Here is where the quality manager has to avoid the biggest pitfall known to the engineering mind – trying to pick the fly poop out of the pepper. Engineers don’t know when to stop, and they are right, continuous improvement never stops but you have to know when to move on. I can say this as I am an engineer and there have been times when my engineering tendencies have driven my husband, a really knowledgeable construction consultant, to offer specific guidance (Honey, hand me the darned 2 x 4, it doesn’t matter that it’s off by a thirty-second).
It is the Quality manager’s responsibility to evaluate the effectiveness of each step in the process and to determine where to improve the process. This means having a way to measure the performance of each step and a method to compare the various results. There are a number of tools to use.
A good customer satisfaction survey is one. One of the most common things I see is a four or five generic question survey where any rating less than excellent draws attention like road kill draws flies. Sales staff and customers a like groan at the thought of filling the thing out and the input has no value. Do some research into your customer base. Talk to your sales staff, field engineers and repair people. They interacts with the customer in the field and you need their input on what is an effective line of questions to get real information from your customer.
Complaints and returns are another resource when it comes to measuring customer dissatisfaction. There is a difference between measuring satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Depending on the price of a part, you may never know the customer has a problem. They may throw it away and go elsewhere without ever talking to you.
Measuring internal costs to achieve customer satisfaction is a third. If you have to 100% sort parts before shipping them, this might be a process that needs to improve.
Once you have all this data you must convert it into dollars of impact on the company. It is the only way to make a fair evaluation. How much is it taking away from profitability? How much sales have we lost? How much sales could we increase? Put a rough estimate together as to costs to evaluate a solution for each problem. Now you have a report that management can understand. Now you are ready to truly implement ISO 9000.