AOQ is 50!
Milestones in life are important. We celebrate them as individuals, families, communities and nations. And as an Association of likeminded people who share a common passion and understanding of the importance of Quality, the milestone of 50 years since the launch of the Australian Organisation for Quality is an important one to celebrate.
I regularly meet with Bob Woodward, a founding member of AOQ, for lunch. Hearing Bob recount the history, as well as his meetings with CEOs and Politicians to get Quality on the policy agenda and taken seriously is both entertaining and instructive. Our history is important. Understanding and celebrating our past is important. Acknowledging the contribution and legacy of those we succeed, reinforces our successes.
That’s why this 50th Anniversary of the launch of AOQ is so important to all of us. In the articles below, we have asked some current Members to reflect on AOQ, the Quality scene, the past and the future.
I hope you experience both pride and interest as you peruse these contributions.
AOQ – and the Big Mac – are 50!
by Jeff Ryall, AOQ President
Quality and Standards: A Brief Review 1968 – 2018
Dr Darryl Yaniuk (MSc, PhD, FRACI, FAOQ, SMASQ, JM)
Managing Quality: Current and future Risks and Opportunities
Michael W McLean, FAOQ, FAICD, FIMC CMC, Juran Medalist, BBus
I Joined AOQ to Learn
Quality from the trenches
by Kathryn Koay, Hydro Tasmania
AOQ – and the Big Mac – are 50!
A Google search for 50th anniversaries this year – an unimaginable thing to do in 1968 – throws up many reminders of significant events. Many are too depressing to revisit. But the one that does readily come to mind is the 50th anniversary of the Big Mac in Australia, replete of course with the “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun” jingle.
AOQ is also 50 this year.
While the Big Mac really hasn’t changed that much over the years, the Quality scene has undergone enormous change. So has AOQ, as it has sought to shape, and respond to, the changing face and context of Quality.
Click through to the first meeting report, and you’ll see a very different organisation to today:
- All male, whereas today membership is evolving to predominantly female;
- Mostly manufacturing context (and companies that don’t exist anymore), whereas today there is a much broader industrial representation encompassing services, education, and government.
- Consultants and specialists, which didn’t really appear until the late 80s – a reflection of the shallow experience depth in the early days perhaps.
Another difference is the fact that in the early days, governance was intrinsically managed as a natural cultural expectation. AOQ was established by honourable people who had the shared objective of building Quality practices in Australia. It was inconceivable that policies were necessary for conflict of interest, fit and proper person, or regulation of commercial activity inside the organisation. It would have been scoffed at. Yet bitter experience, and the changing regulated and societal expectations for governance, have required more robust processes for these things. You can see the current AOQ policies on the website.
Each decade brought new challenges and new developments in Quality understanding and practice – and not always in complete harmony.
Decade 1 (68-78): The beginning of codification of Quality, beginning with the release of the first management system standards, and consolidation of Quality Control practice. The initial reach of training courses as essential to all this was identified and started.
Decade 2 (78-88): An emerging recognition that Australia was in a competitive crisis. Government began to seek answers, and Prof Kevin Foley (AOQ’s former Patron) chaired an enquiry which reported in 1987, setting the scene for the way the various arms of Quality are now organised and managed. This was complemented by the Joint Statement of ACTU, Confederation of Australian Industry & Business Council of Australia: “To achieve change necessary for improved efficiency and productivity by a cooperative approach”. An emerging recognition that Quality is a management function, not a delegated activity began to crystallise. The question was: How? Also, the first formal tertiary courses in Quality appeared.
Decade 3 (88-98): The Total Quality Management Institute began to focus on the role of management and total organisational involvement. Meanwhile, while not ignoring this, AOQ strongly emphasised the need for a management system context and deeper understanding of Quality. Training was a major activity of AOQ, and there was a real hunger for knowledge in how to deal with Quality. The management system certification industry started to develop as the scramble for certification drove demand. Follow-up Enquiries from the Foley report explored more deeply the implications for international competitiveness and management capability – a precursor to the current national competency-based training framework. And the Australian Business Excellence Framework (ABEF) emerged as a holistic model for organisational management, within which Quality was the pervading theme.
Decade 4 (98-08): A period of consolidation and deepening of Quality practice. The Australian Quality Council emerged to position itself as the voice of Quality in Australia. However toward the end of this decade, worrying signs were beginning to emerge. Government policy shifted away from Quality (after all that was dealt with already!), and Australia’s competitiveness began to drift, then slide based on international comparisons. The emergence of readily available information disrupted the service model of AOQ (and the whole association sector).
Decade 5 (08-18): In many ways, Quality has become to be seen as a respected and sophisticated management/business practice, essential for any organisation. There is much greater integration of Quality into education than ever before; it’s a component of almost every Nationally Recognised Training Course. But sadly, Quality curricula have disappeared from university course lists. Management system standards have now evolved to demand the leadership of management, and the strategic risk based execution of Quality management. This has to a large degree delivered on the yearnings of the previous era. Yet the erosion of understanding and insight has emerged as a major challenge, similar to 1968, but on a grander scale.
From early beginnings, Quality has evolved rapidly and radically. It’s been a challenge for AOQ – and us Quality Practitioners – as the face of Quality has changed so fast. While knowledge has exploded, the fundamentals remain the same:
- the need to understand and manage variation;
- the need to understand what Customers require, in stated, unstated, unknown and regulated contexts. And to determine these from both the emotionally and rational perspectives;
- the need to develop and continually refine processes to be capable of delivering this;
- the need to squeeze non-value-adding costs out of the system;
- the need to ensure effective internal controls are in place and maintained;
- the need to both exercise control and at the same time drive change and improvement – no easy task.
So what does the future look like? I think there are three key themes that become the challenge for AOQ as we seek to fulfil our Mission of
- Engage the Practitioners, to give them a point of connection that will deliver encouragement and equip them to perform excellently;
- Teach the fundamentals. They have to be relearned in every generation.
- Understand and provide the message and resources for the times.
Compared to 1968, we live in a complex world, made more challenging by the instantaneous transactional and decision environment.
That’s why Qualcon® 2018 has the theme “Quality in a Complex World”. You really need to be there!
In a world where there are organisations which we are discovering are too big to manage (not just too big to fail!) Quality management is more important than ever. In a world where the expectations of customers are ever higher and unforgiving, Quality management is more important than ever. In a world where regulation and consequences of failure are increasing in magnitude, scope and sector penetration, Quality management is more important than ever.
The need for Quality management skills in organisations has grown exponentially over the lifetime of AOQ. A LinkedIn search reveals 21,400 people profiled with ‘Quality’ in their position title. AOQ has a huge and exciting future ahead, and if AOQ doesn’t nurture the precious knowledge of Quality, who will? Who will engage with government to put a coherent case for renewed focus on Quality in policy? Who will reach out to engage and equip the army of isolated Quality practitioners to be the best they can be in Quality? Who will provide the opportunity to develop understanding and insight of how to manage Quality in the current and future context.
AOQ will, as it has for 50 years!
In conclusion, I leave you with the poetry of Slim Dusty in “Looking forward, looking back”
Looking forward, looking back
I’ve come a long way down the track
Got a long way left to go
Making songs, from what I know
There are strange days
Full of change on the way
But we’ll be fine, unlike some
I’ll be leaning forward, to see what’s co-m-ing…
The Formation of AOQ – Insights from a Conversation with Bob Woodward
Fifty-one years ago, Bob Woodward had developed a passion about what Quality could do to make Australia better.
When Keith Stanton and Joe Shilkin invited Bob to join with them to begin a Quality movement in Australia, Bob jumped at the chance.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce, whose mission was to support industry, acted as a kind of ‘sponsor’, providing secretariat and venue.
A year later the inaugural meeting of AOQ was held, under the Chairmanship of Ken Sheehan, then a senior executive in Shell.
Bob knew Keith Stanton through work. Bob was then Quality Manager at Lucas Industries (in fact, their first ever), a British manufacturer of electrical equipment for the automobile industry. Lucas had laboratories which needed to be accredited. Keith was then Deputy Director at what is now NATA, so Bob interacted closely with Keith.
AOQ, or AOQC (Control) as it then was, attracted much interest – the meetings were well attended, attracted 80-100 participants. Quality was a new and exciting!
Bob’s passion for Quality developed when he worked for the Ministry of Munitions, (later called Australian Munitions and now part of Thales). Bob was a cadet there to pay for his education as a Chemical Engineer, and he worked for some years on the production line. The culture then was to find ‘fixes’ for problems; Bob realised that that was a band aid approach. He began to undertake rigorous analysis of the problems (Bob’s mathematical bent led him in this direction) to identify the underlaying causes and implement cures. This approach was contrary to the ‘rules’. Bob stood his ground and got the rules changed when his boss realised the value in Bob’s approach. Bob initiated proper testing regimes and acceptance specifications for outsourced products.
Back then, management tended to be British, as the British approach was to blame the workers for any faults and treat the workers accordingly. Bob’s approach was fundamentally different – you have to get the system right first. (It’s hard to imagine now how ‘backwards’ the thinking was then).
Bob understood that any improvements needed to be ‘owned’ by the workers. Bob brought about change by facilitation rather than by edict – you (management) can’t make the change, only they (the workers) can. Bob calls this an Australian approach to Quality.
When he was at Lucas, Bob was promoted to Factory Manager. Later, as Product Manager, he visited the USA regularly as many parts were sourced from there. Through this, Bob got to know the Quality leaders in America.
Bob exemplifies an ‘open’ mindset (as compared to a ‘closed’ mindset [‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck]). “For every job I did, I did the next one better”. Improvement is a passion for Bob – even today Bob is active in proposing improvements to the retirement village in which he lives!
Bob went on to help found the Queensland Branch of AOQ hen he moved there in 1981. He helped organise the 1986 Qualcon in Brisbane which had over 1000 attendees! Bob became National President, and in that capacity had a seminal meeting with Senator John Button, the then Industries Minister, which triggered a number of national initiatives and led to the formation of what is now JAS-ANZ.
Bob will be a special guest at Qualcon 2018 in Brisbane in October. The opening session will celebrate the 50 years of AOQ. Martin will interview Bob on stage as part of this. Be there to hear some fascinating recollections of Quality in Australia 50 years ago. Then reach out to Bob in conversation during the rest of Qualcon and gain a deeper understanding of the history of Quality in Australia.
Quality and Standards
A Brief Review 1968 – 2018
Dr Darryl Yaniuk (MSc, PhD, FRACI, FAOQ, SMASQ, JM)
Since the formation of the Australian Organisation for Quality Control in 1968 the Organisation (later to become the Australian Organisation for Quality) has had quite a close relationship with the Standards Association of Australia (SAA) as it was then and Standards Australia (SA) as it is now. In the early days after its inception the Director of SAA, W I (Ian) Stewart, spoke at a number of AOQ seminars and publicised the AOQ seminars in SAA’s Monthly Information Sheet (MIS).
SAA had already been involved in Product Certification and had issued a number of product certificates based on the AS Mark by the time AOQC was established. This scheme required the products to conform to the appropriate product standard but also required the organisation to have some sort of management system.
By the early 1970’s SAA had set up Committee QR/-, Quality and Reliability, which, in 1975, published a series of Suppliers’ Quality Systems based heavily on documents prepared by the Quality Assurance Subcommittee of the Department of Defence. The AOQC was represented on QR/-. These standards were:
- AS 1821 – Suppliers quality systems for design, development, production and installation
- AS 1822 – Suppliers quality systems for production and installation
- AS 1823 – Suppliers quality systems for quality inspection
In July 1977 W Ian Stewart spoke at an AOQC seminar on how AS 1821-3 could be incorporated into the StandardsMark Scheme.
In 1985 SAA revised AS 1821-3 based on work that had been done in the UK, USA and the draft ISO 9000, 9001, 9002, 9003 and 9004 standards. SAA had also started work on AS 2000 which was a guide to the 1821-3 series but decided to stop this work when ISO 9004 was published in 1987.
SAA decided to set up Committee QR/08 (now designated QR-008 – Quality Systems) to mirror the work of ISO/TC 176 – Quality management and quality assurance. One of its early tasks was to adopt ISO 9001, 9002 and 9003 (1987) as AS 3901, 3902 and 3903. The committee constitution on the inside cover of the adopted standards showed that the AOQ, Quality Society of Australasia (QSA) and the Total Quality Management Institute (TQMI) were all represented on the committee.
In the same year that Australia adopted ISO 9001, 9002 and 9003 for the first time Dr Kevin Foley presented the report of his committee (Report of the Review of Standards, Accreditation and Quality Control and Assurance). The committee made quality its central theme and insisted that standards, quality and accreditation are too important to Australia’s economic viability to be left to present arrangements that lack focus, coherence and status.
The Foley report brought a clearer focus on quality and led to a greater implementation of quality management systems complying with AS 3901, 2, or 3. The Australia Government also set up the National Industries Extension Service that provided grants for organisations to implement TQM programs or quality management systems.
There were a number of industries that thought they needed additional guidance for their organisations to be able to implement ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems. Consequently Standards Australia prepared a number of industry specific guides, e.g., chemical , construction. These were published as parts of AS 3905. When ISO 9001 was revised in 2000 these guides were revised and published as handbooks with the designation HB 90.X. As yet they have not been revised to reflect the changes to ISO 9001 brought about in the 2015 revision.
The Queensland Government also issued an edict that it would only do business with organisations that had a certified quality management system in place. It was anticipated that other State and Commonwealth Government Departments would follow suit but the recession in the early 1990’s led Government purchasing departments to look for the cheapest price rather than deal exclusively with certified companies.
The number of certification bodies started to increase significantly and the Australian and New Zealand Governments decided that they required an organisation to oversee these certification bodies. Consequently they established the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) in 1991. JAS-ANZ is still in operation today and is doing an excellent job of managing many other accreditation programs in addition to the ISO 9001 quality management program. Unfortunately there are a number of certification bodies who do not hold JAS-ANZ accreditation and are not subject to the close scrutiny that accreditation audits provide.
In 1994 ISO carried out minor revisions of the ISO 9000 series of standards and Australia and New Zealand decided to adopt them as joint Australian/New Zealand Standards with the AS/NZS ISO 900X designation.
During the 1990’s the Australian Quality Council (mainly funded by the Australian Government) ran the Australian Quality Awards program based on the Australian Business Excellence Framework (modelled after the USA Baldrige Awards and the European Foundation for Quality Management Awards). A number of companies applied for, and received these awards. As the funding from the Government ran out the Australian Quality Council was wound up and the Australian quality Awards were taken over by SAI Global. The Awards continued for a number of years and then interest seemed to wane and, while the Business Excellence framework is still in place the Awards are no longer offered.
In 2005 the Quality Society of Australasia merged with the USA based Registrar Accreditation Board and became RABQSA headquartered in the USA. QSA Members were offered membership of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). This left the AOQ as the only quality related membership organisation in Australia.
In 2000 ISO carried out a major revision of the ISO 9000 series of standards. It eliminated ISO 9002 and 9003 leaving only ISO 9000 – Quality management systems – Fundamentals and vocabulary , ISO 9001 – Quality management systems – Requirements and ISO 9004 – Quality management – Quality of an organisation – Guidelines for sustained success. This simplified the management system requirements and meant that all organisations would be certified to the same standard. A minor revision to these standards was carried out in 2008 with a major revision in 2015. At each revision the Australian mirror committee (QR-008 – consisting of Australian and New Zealand members) adopted the standards as joint Australian and New Zealand standards (AS/NZS ISO 900X). The AOQ has maintained two delegates to the QR-008 committee throughout its lifetime and has made significant contributions to the work of the committee in revising the various standards that have been published by ISO/TC 176.
ISO/TC 176 is not only responsible for the ISO 9000 series of standards but is also responsible for publishing a number of standards that provide support to the ISO 9000 series of standards. Examples of these are:
- ISO 10001-4 – Customer satisfaction
- ISO 10005 – Quality plans
- ISO 10006 – Quality in project management
- ISO 10014 – Financial benefits of quality
From the above discussion one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘quality’ is only related to ISO 9001 certification but that is far from the truth. In 2011 ISO/TC 69 published two standards on Six Sigma, viz,
- ISO 13053.1 – Quantitative methods in process improvement — Six Sigma — Part 1: DMAIC methodology
- ISO 13053.2 – Quantitative methods in process improvement — Six Sigma — Part 2: Tools and techniques
In 2015 it published a further standard, ISO 18404 – Quantitative methods in process improvement — Six Sigma — Competencies for key personnel and their organizations in relation to Six Sigma and Lean implementation
Recently Canada and the UK submitted a request for a new work item:
- Guidelines on Integrating a Business Excellence Framework with ISO management system standards
This will bring together two areas of quality related activities which should bring benefits to all organisations and could revitalise the interest in business excellence throughout the world.
Conclusion and the Future
Since they were first published in 1987 the ISO 9000 series of standards (and ISO 9001 in particular) have become synonymous with quality management. The drive towards certification to ISO 9001 has led many people to believe that this is all there is to ‘quality’. Very few business people (or even ‘Quality Managers’) have any knowledge of the quality Gurus or subjects such as Total Quality Management, Six Sigma or Lean.
ISO 9001 provides a condensed version of good business practice but it is the other aspects of ‘quality’ that can be used to assist in the improvement of an organisation’s processes and therefore its overall business sustainability.
At present the only independent organisation in Australia that can provide the training and knowledge that organisations require to make significant improvements to their business is the Australian Organisation for Quality.
Dr Darryl Yaniuk is a Fellow of the AOQ and a Juran Medallist. He has been a member of Standards Australia’s Committee QR-008 – Quality Systems since 1991 and the Chair since 2006.
Managing Quality: Current and future Risks and Opportunities
Michael W McLean, FAOQ, FAICD, FIMC CMC, Juran Medalist, BBus
Current organisation business conditions seem more complex and disruptive than ever. The impact of social media and the issues of various Royal Commissions and the Facebook President’s testimony, have all affected our perceptions of trust, accountability and culture. The ISO 9000:2015 Evidence Based Decision Making is now a common narrative and goal against so called ‘fake news’.
The early days of Quality Management and the AOQ (1968 in NSW) remind us of the placid waters compared to the continual white water as Dr Tom Peters once described. As ISO 9000/9001 and other ISO High Level Structure based and written management system standards recognised and defined the first clause as Context of the Organization.
In this commonly termed volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (V.U.C.A.) world, business systems managers and their organizations, are seeking profitable and sustainable businesses to meet the current needs and future expectations of their stakeholders and relevant Interested Parties. As these needs and expectations are changing, it can be disheartening for some business managers to keep-up and be relevant to their management or the executive ‘C-Suite’.
It must be recognised that the external issues political, environmental, societal, technological, economic, legislative (PESTEL) do impact and present challenges for organisations. On a micro scale, local, state and Commonwealth political climate and policies can impact a business as will the other issues.
But also, the internal issues normally captured under the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and treats (SWOT) can have more pressing impacts like culture, succession planning, people development, values and behaviours. ISO management system standards ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001, ISO 45001, ISO 50001, ISO 55001 all have Notes 2 and 3 to guide the development of the PESTEL and SWOT. As can be seen, ISO has recognised and responded to this VUCA World to guide organisations in developing their strategic horizons based upon such external and internal business analysis.
Where does Quality and AOQ fit and what are its challenges? In the Rock & Roll industry, perhaps Quality is the ‘Side Player’ of international trade and production of products and services as they work within the organisations to bring the harmonies, backing and enablers for the rock band or singer to perform. The stars can only do such if the Side Player does their many parts and being responsive to the changing stage performance as they perform to and for their audience.
Much has changed and the future for Management of Quality as it requires Top Management and the business systems manager, to embrace Risk Based Thinking. The risks and opportunities for the organisation and integrated within the organisation processes. This a requirement Clause 6.1 (b) Annex SL 9.1 High Level Structured management system standards.
Guidance again for Risks is found in the updated ISO 31000/31010 Risk Management Guidelines and Assessment Techniques. These can help business system managers and their other managers, understand how to assess, mitigate, control and report the risks in their operations in responding to their external and internal context. The risks can be opportunities such as a competitor has started to dominant one market segment that the organisation has traditionally supplied and now decides to build upon its products and services, to attack a market segment that competitor cannot service. .
ISO 9001:2015 and like other ISO management system standards (MSS) since 2012, they are all based upon prevention. That is why ISO 9001:2008 requirement for Preventive Action (that’s right, not Preventative Action) is not included in the recent ISO MSSs.
The future for Managing Quality is largely on how business systems managers are part of the senior/top management/C-Suite narrative. Some examples maybe useful
- Strategic Planning – integrating the various strategy, business and operating plans within the documented management system
- Performance Evaluation – having those strategy documents and their goals, objectives, functional strategies and KPIs captured and visually reviewed in deployment boards
- Communication – ISO 45001 has requirements for Workplace and Worker Participation and ISO 9000 Employee Engagement; with staff engagement and employee branding, attracting, developing and retaining talent and transitioning people well, is core management role
- Continual Improvement – selecting processes for improvement such as the use of TQM, Quality Circles, Kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma™, BPR etc, should be selected from the Processes now captured and documented within the Process Based Management System
- Auditing – ISO 9002:2017 provide Best Practice guidance that Internal Audits should be on the product or process, and not the ISO 9001 Clauses; auditing the changes and expected
- Continual Improvement projects above should then close the loop in the system
- Learning – as we know, Adult Learning will continue to be on preventing problems and risks and solving problems by doing real projects appropriate to the employees’ competencies, capacities and capabilities; showing progress and people’s roles in process is ideal
- Business and Operational Excellence – ISO 9000 has seven Quality Management Principles and when married with other organisational and supplier excellence criteria, perhaps Dr Deming’s 14 Points for Management and now with Organisation Process Maturity in ISO 9004:2018, customers and the organisation can do assessments and even benchmarks, to assist strategically select and make improvements
- Strategic Quality Management – As Dr Juran said, all improvement occurs through projects and no other way; the Cost of Quality to determine critical to quality (Six Sigma) is relevant
- Supply Chains – ISO 1005 Quality Plans and ISO 10007 Configuration Management will support organisations along with their Certifications, be considered and sustained within national and international supply chains and even Block Chains and Export Control standards
- Integrated management systems – having a process architecture, organisations will be able to be agile, responsive and innovative to respond effectively to opportunities and manages risks to the business
Is Quality a competitive advantage? The recent JD Powers US Quality Survey shows that it is. [http://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/2018-us-initial-quality-study-iqs]
However, the tendency to copy a supposedly leading company like the Toyota Motor Corporation, and its infamous Production System, can be misleading and unsustainable. Managing Quality and the Risks and Opportunities needs to be tempered with and understanding the organisations’ context.
Michael McLean is a Fellow of the AOQ, Juran Medallist, Shilkin Prize and AOQ NSW Sliver Anniversary Award recipient. He is a member of Standards Australia’s Committee QR-008 – Quality Systems for the Australian Industry Group nominated organisation; ISO Convener for the revision of the “Integrated Use of Management System Standards” handbook due for the 2018 release.
I Joined AOQ to Learn
When I got my first job in quality, I quickly realised what a lonely role that can be. Most of us with that title work alone in a large organisation with few others who understand quality or welcome our arrival on the scene.
I joined AOQ to learn. Moving from a job in a large hospital (where I was fortunate to receive training in everything from managing Gen Y staff members, change management, root cause analysis and a host of other topics) to working for myself meant I needed to find other ways to stay in the loop with best business practices. And my modest membership fee has been richly rewarded with inspiration and practical information alike.
From Jackie Graham’s lively and illuminating “Quality Tools – The good, the bad and the ugly” to fascinating research sponsored by JAS-ANZ into the quality of certification auditors, I have found myself scribbling notes to self at every single meeting of the Melbourne Chapter.
There are so many different approaches in the quality sphere – as every organisation seems to approach it differently. We have been privileged to gain insights into the Lean journey from Don Stanley who showed us the valuable steps that his company has taken to improve productivity in a highly competitive (specialised) market. Fortress Resistors opened their operation up for a members-only visit to see how Lean has been implemented in their factory – a wonderful example of involvement in the quality system by every level of the organisation. The visual systems used to manage workflow and stock levels for parts were an eye-opener for me. No need for written procedures – just see and do.
It’s this huge diversity of approaches that makes an organisation like AOQ so important. Instead of purely learning about AOQ in the context of my own organisation or experience, I gain an insight into a much wider world. From that I learn lessons which can then be applied back into my own work environment. In this way the world of Quality is enhanced for all of us.
Quality from the trenches
Does anyone ever plan to be a quality professional? When I started my quality journey 20+ years ago, quality seemed to be a job people came to “by accident” rather than design, and I was no exception. Businesses were aware that quality was a “thing”, and that it was worth some form of investment, but because in many cases they didn’t really know what it meant in the context of their organisation they often reassigned existing staff to these roles and expected them to pick it up as they went along. Maybe this wasn’t (and isn’t) true in manufacturing and industry sectors, where quality was well defined – and the ISO management system was initially based around production – but in businesses that were largely office based this certainly appeared to be the business mindset.
I came to Hydro Tasmania in the mid 1990’s with no previous quality experience and very little knowledge, and was hired as a Quality Officer to support the Quality Manager (QM). Back in those days life was very prescriptive. The QM wrote the manual and all the procedures (all numbered to match the sections of the standard) and instituted a rigorous audit schedule that called out individuals for not following the system. Even at that early stage I could see how this was no way to “win friends and influence people” – after all, the QM had given me an important mission on hiring me – to be the “friendly face of quality”.
Because I was new to quality and knew next to nothing about electrical or mechanical engineering, I had to ask lots of questions. Because I had responsibility for ensuring non-conformances and corrective actions were resolved in a satisfactory manner, I had to visit lots of people. These people were keen to tell me why they were right and the process was wrong, why some conditions could not be met, while others were not sufficient to manage issues associated with the work. Consistent throughout was the employees desire to make a difference and enhance the generation ability of the Hydro Tasmania network.
I didn’t know it at the time, but these conversations were making me a better quality professional – all the walking and talking and learning as I moved through the different departments.
Gradually it dawned on me that being in quality was actually pretty special – I was one of only a few people in the organisation (of 500+ staff) who could see how things connected across the business. Projects were split into various parts and managed in different sections, and it was common for them not to talk to each other. Issues arose when final product from one team, that formed the input for another team, was not fit for purpose – because they hadn’t talked to each other and weren’t united in outcome. Once I could see the connections the conversations became easier, and change, slowly but surely, started creeping in.
Fast forward a couple of years and the QM retired. There is a bit of to-and-fro as now no-one can decide where quality fits in the management structure, and who should own it. The previous QM was appointed by a previous Managing Director and now both have left we are back to not really knowing, at the top management level, what quality is and why we have it. But we like being certified, and think that’s an important customer requirement so we keep the system but without a QM.
I think this is perhaps where the real “trench warfare” begins. I’ve joined AOQ and I’m still learning and understanding what quality is and how we can leverage improvements. More conversations, and without the “tyranny of oversight” we start rewriting thing, removing those things that don’t add value and start building processes that are fit for purpose. Unsurprisingly there is more buy-in for these processes, and improved ownership.
We start looking at what evidence we really need and how that appears – for example acknowledgement by email. How many paper records do we need? What if we had centralised filing and project numbering? How do we make this stuff easier so that it can become ingrained behaviours rather than bolt-on requirements? We also start explaining the “why” behind the requirements. Our final product is a four-stage project management guide set as a series of questions that determines what documentation is needed. It is scalable for small to large projects, and incorporates a structured electronic file management set-up to enable consistency in record keeping. There is also an “Operations” manual describing the business management system that addresses QMS requirements for aspects such as management review, training and competency. It’s focused on the business need, not the ISO standard structure and most people know it just as the way we do things. It serves as a Quality Manual but encompasses a wider business need, and allows us to incorporate quality from the ground up. How many people are needed in the quality team to effect organisational change? Maybe it’s only one, if the organisation really wants to change.
Then, like all organisations, things change. Hydro Tasmania disaggregates and becomes three separate businesses. I’ve been working in the commercial engineering arm, Entura, but after disaggregation find myself in a new corporate based team for HSEQ. I’m lucky to now work in an expanded team with great people to learn from as well as working with them. I still provide advice and audit support for Entura, but my main role is the “Q” aspect of HSEQ – primarily in a role that supports the capture of process (often through workshops, interviews and process mapping), and then works with those who own and use the process to review and improve them. It’s the same but different – we completely redevelop the HSE system during this time to align environment with health and safety, and there are training and information sessions to deliver. Soon after this we are certified across the business for ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001.
Work is challenging as with the new team come new horizons. We start looking at developing vision and mission statements around service delivery, and start monitoring and measuring performance. Hydro Tasmania adopts the balanced scorecard and “has a go” as developing strategy and associated measures.
Conversations include discussions on targets and goals, and big ticket business wide initiatives. Around this time, Qualcon is held in Launceston for the first time. Hydro sponsors me to attend. Representatives from our certification provider also attend, and we end up in an ad hoc presentation discussing the importance of having a balanced relationship. The eye-opener for me is that not everyone enjoys the same reciprocal relationship as we do – our auditors manage to balance audit responsibility and business value well, and our biennial external audits are great opportunities for us to learn and improve. In particular we have been able to leverage increased management involvement through the audit process and improve our management system as a result. This is a win for those in the trenches, where the opportunities to influence top management may be few and far between.
My manager spends many hours with different management team members discussing and debating what this means. Frustration levels rise as the message is not getting through.
Around this time I start thinking about my daughter, who has autism, and the therapists with whom we work. Her progress comes in small steps and follows a set sequence of events – skills depend on previous milestones, and progress won’t happen “unless she is ready for it”. I mention this to my manager; how progress relies on a state of readiness – and then one day soon after we have a team epiphany – the same applies to top management – if they are not ready, then they’re not ready. A “black swan” moment if you will. We need to keep working to move that readiness along, but we adjust our plans to compensate for the current state. We consciously start to “lead by example” with practical applications of measures that showcase performance through improvement. The “Improvement Plan” gets implemented for Safety, and then Environment. The Quality Improvement plan for Hydro not so much – Entura is still certified but separate, and they implement their business improvement plan aligned to their Balanced Scorecard categories.
Fast forward a few years and another restructure, and I have moved “home base” again. During the redundancy process, and conversations with various managers, I end up in the former IT group, now branded “Information, Process and Systems”. (Systems in this instance refer to computer/IT systems, not management system per se.) My team has the somewhat imposing title of “Business Improvement and Change” and are tasked to assess benefit realisation form a recent SAP installation project.
At the same time we initiate “Switched-On Ideas”, an improvement/employee suggestion platform. It’s rough and ready as we plan to run with it and make changes as we need (without fully recognising at the time that this would be our first “agile” implementation.
Our first year goal is to gather 100+ ideas that will save the business a minimum of $20,000. Surprisingly, employees were more than ready to be heard and we end up with hundreds of ideas calling out wasteful practice and opportunities to improve, and over $5 million in savings. Switched-On Ideas continues to run at Hydro Tasmania, but without the numerical and financial targets: rather it is a place for people to submit ideas for improvement that they or their team are unable to implement by themselves. It allows us to collaborate across the business, and get ideas for change from those who see our process in a more independent light.
Fast forward for the last time to today – I still have “quality” in my job title, along with process improvement and analysis. We’ve rolled out a major strategic in the last twelve months that was building momentum since the early days of the new IP&S team. It’s called “Making Things Better” and is an initiative that’s close to everyone’s heart. The focus is on building a more dynamic and responsive capability within our potentially “old school” government business enterprise. As a business we are educating everyone in a range of methodologies that enable us to see opportunities and enact change. We have a social media platform that we share news and videos of improvement activities, and share them at meetings. We are openly talking about process and how they help or hinder us in meeting requirements and expectations.
Our business operations align to the quality management principles, we are on a continuous improvement pathway, our focus is firmly on how we work to deliver outcomes to customers, and we are all about learning as an organisation.
It’s been 20 years in the making, but now we are ready to come out of the trenches and charge!