Guest Column: Tottering Quality Management

The time has come to re-evaluate the quality movement for the sake of furthering the success of ISO-certifies companies


The dubious and redundant aspect of quality management starts from this point. In order to maintain the certification and withstand the periodic surveillance audits of the external agency, most companies are too willing to accommodate these consultants or experts in the form of a quality assurance manager. Guidelines of ISO have made it easier for these "redundant" managers to report directly to the chief executive in order to keep "quality" as a high level and independent function in the organisation. And that makes it easier for these climbers to stay on forever. Most of the time, their work is reduced to arranging "facilities" for the external auditors and "taking care" of them during the audits. That both these efforts do not necessarily contribute to the quality of the host organization is a simple fact that misses the attention of the chief executives. In fact, they are counterproductive and retrograde. In the long run almost all such companies end up uneconomical, thanks to their misplaced overemphasis on quality rather than profit. Quality is meaningful only in a profit-making company and all the efforts for it must subordinate the ultimate objective of making profit.

Desirable Changes

It is time that the policy makers at ISO started thinking in terms of pulling their systems of auditing and certification out of the "suspicion net" they have fallen into. There should be strict norms for authorization of certification agencies and stricter ones for the way they conduct business. Recertification and surveillance audits should be more frequent and conducted in a transparent and professional manner. Qualification and integrity of the auditors must be thoroughly scrutinized. More than a profession of its own, auditors must be chosen from peers in the industry itself. Those who have not done mending by themselves can never audit or certify a mender.

There are several changes required on the part of the users of these certification agencies as well. The first change that is inevitable must come from the realization that a quality assurance manager in an ISO-certified organization is actually impeding quality rather than promoting it. Once written procedures are available and initial certification is over, all further revisions must be carried out by the owners of the procedures. And owners of quality procedures must be operating departments themselves and not the quality assurance manager. In most cases, once the ISO certification is over, the employees carry on with their usual work, leaving the quality aspects to the QA manager. This is not correct. The best way to avoid this scenario is to abolish the post of quality assurance manager in all ISO-certified companies. Internal audits must be carried out by the procedure owners themselves and external audits by accomplished auditors of integrity. If ISO doesn't see light at the end of the tunnel now, it would be disaster that awaits ISO-certified companies in the near future.

About the Author: J. Ajith Kumar is an Indian engineer working in the Middle East. He has had published articles in prestigious international publications like Cost Engineering and Contract Management. He can be reached at jajithkumar@hotmail.com.

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