Audits, Digitalization

Implementing a quality management system in practice

Follow these 7 tips to boost acceptance for your QMS, implement an effective system and motivate employees

6 minutes11/30/2021

What should you do if employees or managers see your quality management system (QMS) as an obstacle to their daily operations? In some companies, it might not be unusual to hear people say things like “I’ve got work to do, so I don’t have time to fill out any forms” or “Why do we need a quality management officer anyway?” However, a standardized QMS often lays the foundations for a company’s success, not least because they have become an essential component to establishing contractual business relationships in almost all industries. The following tips should help you to develop, establish and maintain a QMS in a highly practical and employee-friendly manner. It is crucial to ensure that every employee understands the purpose and rationale behind the QMS, which is to enable coordinated, smooth and reproducible processes.

1. Avoid standard-based jargon

“Context of the organization”, “documented information” and “document control” – these terms from ISO standards are not exactly commonplace in everyday workplace conversations. You can ensure your QMS is well-received by making sure you communicate clearly using your company’s habitual language. Don’t try to introduce terminology from standards into process regulations. Controlled, documented information just means documents and records; compliance obligations are legal, official and customer requirements. 

2. Tailor your QMS structure to your processes

Look at your organization’s existing process landscape and structure the requirements of ISO 9001 to align with these processes. Why introduce a new process for “context of the organization” if the existing “company strategy” process has already proven to be effective? Allocate the requirements of ISO 9001 appropriately, with top management requirements (in Clauses 4, 5, 6, 9 & 10) assigned to management processes, operational requirements (Clause 8) assigned to supply chain processes, and support requirements (Clause 7) assigned to support processes. Don’t define new processes where they are not necessary. This will allow you to accurately map out actual practices in your company, improve your employees’ understanding of the purpose and rationale behind the QMS, integrate your organization’s process owners in the structure of your QMS, and ensure that quality management becomes an integral part of company processes.

3. Keep your QMS streamlined

When defining the processes and documentation in your QMS, it is important to follow one key rule: Keep it as comprehensive as necessary, but as small as possible. ISO 9001 and your company’s production process outline the necessary processes and documentation and provide a basic framework. You should critically analyze all other processes and documents to identify who needs them and why. Many management systems become increasingly complex over time as more documentation and process definitions are added, which can lead to problems with understanding and acceptance – and can also place undue strain on employees. With this in mind, you should review procedures and documentation in your QMS on a regular basis. This will help you to ensure each aspect is absolutely necessary and keep your QMS streamlined.

4. Introduce EHSQ software

Using a specialist software solution allows you to document, revise and manage processes and responsibilities in real time, not only for the QM team but for everyone involved. It also makes it easy to insert links within the documentation. Furthermore, software assistance avoids delays in identifying and communicating new regulations and regulatory changes. When it comes to managing procedures, training and audits, using a software solution to allocate responsibilities and set deadlines provides greater transparency. It also avoids circuitous lines of communication. By relying on specialist software, you can effectively define what information individuals can access within the QMS, so that everyone only receives information that is relevant to their own duties. This helps employees to understand the QMS, makes it easier to find relevant regulations, and eliminates the risk of information overload.

5. Integrate employees at an early stage

The task of coordinating and overseeing the introduction of a QMS is usually assigned to a quality management officer. However, quality management can only work effectively if everyone in an organization – from top management down to individual employees – is acutely aware of the need for quality. ISO 9001 does not state that a quality management officer must be solely responsible for the QMS. In fact, it doesn’t require a quality management officer at all. Instead, companies need to define relevant roles and responsibilities. You should take the departments and hierarchical levels in your organization into account for this and work with the relevant people as a QMS team. In addition, you should call on other employees to tackle specific tasks related to the QMS, as specialists will likely be most familiar with the unique problems and potential solutions in their area of expertise. This way, you can create an atmosphere of professional appreciation, which will help employees to identify better with the system and ultimately bring about the necessary improvements.

6. Call on professional support

A QMS is often the first management system that companies introduce. If this is true in your case, we recommend seeking out an external specialist to advise during the gap analysis and when defining required actions. This is usually more efficient than trying to navigate the language and logic of the ISO world on your own. However, it is important to remember that this support should function as a way to help you to help yourself. A QMS will not function properly in your organization if you outsource all aspects of its implementation.

7. Be realistic when estimating timescales

The decision to introduce a QMS often arises from a customer request or pressure to obtain certification from elsewhere in the supply chain. Experience shows that you should allow a period of 12-14 months from embarking on the project to successfully obtaining certification. Demanding that the system should be “up and running” as quickly as possible is simply unrealistic. If you rush to obtain certification, you risk creating a situation in which employees lack understanding of the QMS and feel demotivated and overburdened. Take the time you need to introduce your QMS properly.