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The traditional approach to quality was to inspect the product for adherence to specifications. This soon gave way to building quality into the process by identifying and correcting quality related issues at the manufacturing stage itself. Incorporating quality into strategic planning is a culmination of this approach.
Strategic planning directs the organization to its objectives. It is part of a broader strategic management framework, which includes formulation of a strategic plan, communicating the same across the organization, deploying resources to ensure its implementation, and measuring and evaluating the results for course corrections. The quest for quality being all pervasive, ensuring quality invariably becomes a critical component of all stages of the strategic management process.
Integrating quality in the planning process requires understanding the quality requirements upfront, making an evaluation of the actual state to determine what needs fixing, and then integrating the quality requirements in the planning process. This requires:
- Developing a quality statement to lend clarity to the espoused standards.
- Adopting quality interventions such as Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, ISO, and others that allow incorporation of the required quality standards.
- Involving employees in the process.
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Preparing the Statement
Developing the quality statement or defining the required quality levels is the first step in strategic quality planning. The ways to identify quality requirements are:
- Referring to time-tested product specifications or standards.
- Feedback from customers on their requirements, the extent to which the product serves their requirement and scope for improvement.
- Benchmarking with competitor products or industry standards for similar products.
Develop measures to evaluate quality side by side with defining quality requirements. This entails quantifying the ideal state, and establishing the divergence from such optimal stages. Such measures help determine the extent to which quality interventions fulfill actual requirements.
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The most popular quality management tools are Six Sigma, Kaizen, Total Quality Management, Lean, and others. Each has its relevance in specific occasions and situations.
- Six Sigma, for instance is a statistical oriented process that focuses on eliminating variances and bringing out a standardized process.
- Lean manufacturing aims at eliminating waste from the process.
- Kaizen is a process of continuous improvement, with a cycle of improvement-feedback-improvement.
- Total Quality Management is an integrated approach that aims to improve quality by streamlining process, ensuring proactively, and other methods.
Select the most appropriate tool. For instance, assembly line manufacturing might require a combination of Lean and Six Sigma to eliminate waste and reduce defects. A service such as a hospital might find Total Quality Management more appropriate to ensure all departments and units remain geared to serve the customer at every level.
Regardless of the methodology adopted, the quality intervention needs integration with the operations plan. Each component of the operational plan or activity needs to incorporate quality considerations along with other stipulations.
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An underestimated dimension of incorporating quality into strategic planning is ensuring the commitment of the workforce to intervention. Employees are the front line representatives of the enterprise, and come in direct contact with the customer or the product. The actual implementation of quality plans take place through them, and any quality intervention without their support or cooperation invariably fails.
Ways to ensure workforce support and commitment include:
- Infusing a culture of quality through strong leadership.
- Linking rewards to quality.
- Communicating the benefits of quality.
- Providing training and development to enable employees to become competent in quality.
- Involve the employee in the quality planning and implementation process by forming quality circles and other quality teams.
- Providing employees with ownership of the quality intervention by involving them in the planning process.
Organizations that value quality as a strategic asset do not limit themselves to incorporating quality directly into their strategic plans. They also make continuous quests for quality advancement part of their culture, and in the process, gain a critical and competitive advantage.
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- University of North Texas. "Strategic Management for Senior Leaders: A Handbook for Implementation." Retrieved May 14, 2011 at http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/npr/initiati/mfr/managebk.pdf
- Business Improvement Architects. “Strategic Quality Planning.” Retrieved May 14, 2011 at http://www.bia.ca/courses-leadership/strategic-quality-planning-ldr.htm
- Kurt Salmon. "The Case for Quality as a Strategic Differentiator." Retrieved May 14, 2011 at http://www.kurtsalmon.com/publications/the-case-for-quality-as-a-strategic-differentiator/
- Wiley. "Total Quality Management." Retrieved May 14, 2011 at http://www.wiley.com/college/sc/reid/chap5.pdf
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