4 Steps for Refocusing Quality Assurance Goals for Better Results

A Fresh Approach to Quality Management Systems

Quality assurance (QA) programs tend to be complex and contain numerous moving parts, all of which you need to manage with limited time, budget, and resources. It’s easy to get bogged down. Sometimes the key to a better process is simply stepping back and refocusing your approach.

By bringing things back to the basics — in this case, your stakeholders and their goals — you can make QA more manageable. This doesn’t mean your system will be any less complex, but you will gain the benefit of faster, streamlined processes. When everyone is on the same page with the same set of protocols, you can develop a clear, informed action plan that everyone understands.

Read on for a step-by-step approach to this simplification process.

Your QA Program: Start Where You Are

QA work can be overwhelming. It ‘s easy to get wrapped up in perfectionism, which can make you feel as if you’re constantly spinning your wheels.

When it comes to QA, however, any sort of improvement is a valuable step in the right direction. Quality assurance is a cyclical learning process. The cycle can be broken down into four basic parts: Plan, Gather, See, and Act.

One basic tenet of a quality system is continuous improvement — and by this definition, there is no perfect. Recognize this and keep moving forward.

Step 1. Consider Stakeholders and Their Goals (Plan)

When you frame your business goals only in terms of risk management, you’re trapping yourself in a reactive management style. You may have to scramble to answer stakeholder requests or fix quality-related issues. A reactive approach also makes it difficult to plan ahead or strategize for unforeseen hiccups.

  • Flip the Script: Take a proactive, strategic approach that puts your stakeholder objectives front and center. Reach out to your stakeholders to learn more about their goals and objectives. Solicit feedback on problems and discover insights around risk mitigation. Develop an action plan based upon stakeholder input. This strategy is part of a solid stakeholder management plan, a basic framework that anyone on your team can follow. With such a plan in place, everyone on your team will be better equipped to understand problems, prioritize tasks, and work toward remedies. A good stakeholder management plan is also scalable and flexible, which makes it easy to modify as company initiatives or stakeholder metrics change.
  • Standardize and Communicate: Your efforts won’t be very effective unless your entire team is aware of your frameworks and expectations. The best way to make sure everyone is on the same page is to standardize your metrics and communicate this information clearly to all stakeholders. This will help create realistic expectations and deliverables.

Hot Tip: Think of each stakeholder as a customer. You already know that you need to understand your customer to market to them, and it’s no different with stakeholders. Use this worksheet [LINK?] to create simple personas to describe your stakeholders. If you get stuck, enlist the help of your marketing department — they’re accustomed to this type of exercise.

Step 2. Remember — Quality Management is Data Management (Gather)

Even though you deal with people and products, in one way or another you’re responsible for gathering (and storing) data. Inefficient storage of customer feedback, audits, supplier information, and certifications can cause big problems. If your paperwork is in many different places, stored deep in filing cabinets, or lost in convoluted email chains, you’re not working at peak efficiency.

Hot Tip: Some common solutions for document storage like Dropbox might work in the short-term, but they are not always scalable. Depending upon the size and needs of your organization, a QMS, EHSQ, or ERP may be a better choice. These systems can help you with analytics and reporting as well as with overall organization.

Step 3. See: Graduate from Spreadsheets for Better Visibility (See)

Having a lot of data and having the right data are two different things, so it’s important to pick your single source of information carefully. If your data is kept in spreadsheets, you’ll spend a lot of time locating, compiling, and delivering reports.

Instead, choose a platform that’s quick and scalable. Remember that data can expire, so being quick to analyze, develop insights, and act will increase your chances of success. Find a solution that will be able to grow and evolve with your company.

  • Make it Automatic: Whatever software you choose, make sure reporting for all departments is automated. Many packages offer collection, aggregation, analysis, and reporting configured for your specific business goals and accessible in just a few clicks.

Hot Tip: Different stakeholders may need to see different data sets in different formats. A bar graph for one stakeholder may not satisfy another, so be sure you know and can plan for how stakeholders want to receive information.

Step 4. Use Insights to Drive Meaningful Action (Act)

Use your insights to take meaningful action. Update your internal information and bring staff up to speed. Fast, informed action will improve quality, safety, compliance, brand protection, and customer satisfaction.

  • Act More, React Less: Use your insights to identify root causes, and then formally update your processes and protocols. Make sure staff are both aware of changes and equipped to implement them, including scheduling trainings.
  • Go Back to the Beginning: This entire process is iterative, and that means even when something doesn’t work, you can (and should!) learn the lesson and start over. Accept that there is no perfect, static QA system. Learn from your mistakes (and your successes), adjust your plan, and improve your process in a clear, informed, and scalable way.

Hot Tip: When things don’t go as expected, try reframing your reaction. Ask yourself what you learned and how it will help you do better next time. Come up with a plan to proactively report failures to stakeholders, including an action plan for repair and prevention.

As a QA professional, you’re trained to value quality — but the process is continual and fluid. Accepting that perfection is fleeting — if not impossible — is a difficult but important part of doing your job well. These four steps will help you reframe the process and get better results.

 

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