Quality objectives are requirements of theISO 9001 standard, but why? What are they, and what are they for? While the answers to these questions may be interesting, a more important question is how do you write good quality objectives so that they are beneficial to your company? In short, the quality objectives can be the best way to spotlight the key elements of the Quality Policy and find a focal point for the efforts of the people in the organization to work toward improvement. Improvement, after all, is a key reason for a company to implement a Quality Management System.
Quality Objectives: The What and Why
The quality objectives are the main method used by companies to focus the goal(s) from the Quality Policy into plans for improvement. The Quality Policy is created with the Customer Requirements in mind, then quality objectives are linked back to the Customer Requirements through the Quality Policy. The quality objectives take the goal(s) stated in the Quality Policy and turned these into statements for improvement against which plans can be made.
For example, if the Quality Policy of a widget manufacturer had identified a customer need for just-in-time delivery with no defects as the most important requirements, the goal from the Quality Policy might read: “To deliver widgets to our suppliers when they need them, with no defects, every time.” This company might then have two Quality Objectives: the first being to address improvement of on-time delivery, and the second to address defective parts shipped to the customer. The first objective might be: “to improve on-time delivery from 90% to 95% within the next year” and the second could be: “to reduce field escapes to the customer from 4% to 3% within the next year”. In doing so, the improvement derived from the Quality Objectives is directly linked to the needs of the customer.
These quality objectives would then be communicated to each level of the organization with corresponding objectives and plans at each level to help meet the overall planned goal. If your company uses a Balanced Scorecard, this is a good format to use for this communication of quality objectives.
The objectives need to be set for the different levels of the organization right down to objectives for the product (e.g. one objective for the whole QMS, then individual objectives for the product or process that supports the overall objective). These product or process objectives are often referred to as Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs). By utilizing the KPIs that the company has identified as the important indicators that the processes are functioning well the overall QMS objectives for improvement become much easier to measure.
How to Make the Quality Objectives Work for You
After deciding which things to monitor, measure and improve, the important thing is to make the Quality Objectives effective in addressing what needs to be improved. The objectives should be designed to be S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) and should have relevance at all levels of the company, meaning that each employee should understand how their job supports meeting the Quality Objectives. To do this, the following should be addressed:
Specific. For the best results, an objective needs to be clear and specific. Instead of saying “to improve non-conforming product,” a specific Quality Objective would be “to reduce non-conformances on the third widget line,” if the third widget production line is showing data as the most troublesome area for non-conforming product.
Measurable. If an objective can’t be measured, how will you know if it has been obtained? In order to make a Quality Objective effective, it needs to be measurable, so this means that having an objective “to reduce non-conformances on the third widget line from 15% to 5%” is much more effective than saying “to improve quality of the products on the third widget line.” You can measure the defects being made, and therefore make plans to reduce the number of defects, but a vague measure of “quality” is more ephemeral and very hard to plan improvements for.
Agreed. For an objective to be agreed it first needs to be created and approved by top level management. Once management agrees on the objective it needs to be communicated to each level of the organization that will be required to implement the plans to achieve the objective, and the people at these levels of the organization need to agree that the plan is achievable. Without this buy-in they may not fully work towards the goal and the plan may be doomed to failure.
Realistic. Being realistic with an objective will make selling it within your organization easier. If you tell your employees that you want to reduce defects from 50% to 2%, they will not be able to see how this is possible, especially if the plans around the object do not support the improvement. It is better to set realistic goals and overachieve than it is to set unrealistic goals and always fall short of the expectation.
Time-Based. To be truly effective, an objective needs to have a time associated with it. To say “reduce non-conformances on the third widget line from 15% to 5% in the next year” allows for better planning, since a plan needs to have dates in order to be properly tracked. Again, having the time associated will allow you to monitor how close you expect to be in achieving your goals.
Establishing the Quality Objectives
The last step required when implementing the Quality Objectives is to make sure they are not only communicated to the relevant individuals, but that each individual understands his own involvement. If the objective is to “reduce non-conformances on the third widget line from 15% to 5% in the next year,” then the employees working on the third widget line need to understand not only what the objective says, but how it will be measured, what plans are in place to make it happen, and how they will impact the plans to move them forward. Improvement is not accomplished by having secret plans in the background, but by having the people responsible for the process involved in improving how they work. This will not only improve the process, but employee morale and empowerment as well.
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