Robert Gordon University’s Dr Lowellyne James outlines the key steps in achieving quality management across your business and in the supply chain

Quality management is widely regarded as the umbrella name for three important elements of running a business – quality assurance, which provides customers with confidence in the overall quality of your products and services; quality control, which looks at fulfilling the required levels of quality; and quality improvement, where you look to continually improve the quality throughout your organisation.

An effective quality-management system allows you to achieve four things:
1. Consistency
The need to ensure that you produce products or services at a consistent level that meets both customer and regulatory requirements.
2. Customer satisfaction
This refers to both ‘internal customers’ such as your colleagues, and ‘external customers’ who we also refer to as stakeholders (these can range from the general public to other businesses and organisations).
3. Opportunity and risk identification
A good quality-management system can help identify potential risks, but also opportunities to make improvements that will benefit the organisation.
4. Conformity 
A quality management system demonstrates that the organisation has set standards conformance for all your products and services.
For any business looking to improve or evolve their quality management system there are four essential steps:
Step 1
Gain senior management commitment to quality. Without the CEO, board members and other senior management’s buy-in, any attempt to create or change quality-management strategy is likely to fail. Senior management set the tone for the entire organisation and will drive change from the board room to the employees that routinely interface with the direct customer.
Step 2 
Engage people. The identification of key personnel and middle managers is also critical to successful management system development, this can be achieved through the establishment of a cross functional steering committee, to implement new quality processes throughout the organisation.
Step 3
Identify opportunities to improve. This requires the first two steps to get people to feedback issues regarding quality around the business and then for leaders/teams to be tasked with solving those problems and implementing solutions.
Step 4
Analysis and review. This requires a clear framework to determine that existing arrangements in relation quality have been effective and to pursue further improvement.
Quite simply, once established, a good quality-management system should be constantly improved and reviewed so that performance is maintained at optimal levels and outcomes such as profitability and stakeholder satisfaction are achieved for the business.
An example of the need for a focus on continuous improvement is Toyota, a company that was renowned for its processes and quality of products which had perfected many of the quality tools adopted within industry such as “just in time”, lean manufacturing. However, in 2010, following a spate of recalls due to problems with its vehicles, Toyota’s CEO admitted that strategically there had been a slight shift away from their focus on safety and quality in a bid for growth.
A critical part of a company’s overall management responsibility in the 21st century, is the supply chain. It’s more important than ever due to the growing stakeholder pressure on organisations to procure materials, services and parts ethically and also comply with all necessary standards. Products and services that transgress rules around bribery, slavery, child labour, or simply don’t adhere to essential safety standards, may contribute to potential reputational damage and could lead to punitive fines being imposed on the firm.
Organisations must pursue long-term relationships with their suppliers to ensure the quality and traceability of any products/services they purchase the emphasis being on building networks of trust and collaboration. It’s worth remembering that a similar approach should be adopted with subcontractors.
"Larger organisations should be looking to consolidate to a smaller group of key suppliers they can trust"Dr Lowellyne James, Robert Gordon University
As such, larger organisations that may have a significant number of suppliers across their operations internationally should be looking to consolidate this to a smaller group of key or approved suppliers based on quality of performance rather than price. It’s then important to be proactive and meet with these suppliers on routine site visits and to work with them so that quality is understood as the key performance indicator in any service level agreement or contractual arrangement.