In this article, I’m going to show you how to increase accountability, improve visibility and boost the efficiency of your quality management system in just a few hours by enabling better collaboration around processes, without disrupting existing systems.
Is this article for me?
It’s worth spending 10 minutes reading this article if you:
- Enjoy the discipline of quality management
- Have a decent understanding of the standards that companies use, especially those that are based on ISO 9001
- Are interested in Lean & Six Sigma
- Want to improve your QMS
- Want to reduce headaches in managing your processes
- Believe continuous improvement is a culture, and want it to work in your organization
- Suspect that your team spends too much time on non-value added activities…
A bit of background
My name is Ben Merton, and I’m the CEO of Unifize (more on that later).
My co-founder and I have both spent most of our careers running our own manufacturing businesses in various countries around the world. I ran a manufacturer of custom industrial enclosures for the power, automation and telecom segments. Lakshman ran a manufacturer of processed foods (snack pellets).
We both faced a tonne of quality management and continuous improvement challenges, and we started Unifize to make this easier for other companies.
Part 1: The Problem
Quality teams spend up to 85% of their time on non-value added activities.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying your team isn’t working. I’m saying that they are spending up to 7 hours a day working stuff like this:
- Following up and coordinating with other teams
- Entering data into different systems
- Sitting in meetings and trying to get approvals
That leaves around an hour to focus on the core value-added processes, including:
- Identifying defects/NCs
- Completing root cause analyses
- Implementing corrective actions
- Conducting internal audits
This isn’t your fault. This happens because it’s really hard to measure the wasted time in quality processes because they are highly collaborative.
And, as you know, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t reduce it.”
The funny thing about quality processes...
In the chart above, you can see that the simple, linear process you think you are following is actually much more chaotic in practice!
Quality processes are different from other processes because:
- They require context and creativity, concepts that are inherently human.
- They can’t be automated. (You can’t automate a root cause analysis or the definition and implementation of corrective actions.)
Therefore, they are inherently collaborative processes.
What's so special about collaborative processes?
Regular processes tend to be predictable: For example, a manufacturing process has raw material that comes in and finished product that comes out.
It’s fairly easy to predict the resources you need for a regular process, specifically the number and type of people you may require and the machines or other infrastructure you need to complete the process.
For these reasons, regular processes can be managed or tracked in an ERP or some other database software because the input and output variables are known.
On the other hand, collaborative processes tend to be unpredictable:
- Unpredictable inputs – e.g. you can’t predict the kind of problem you are describing in a non-conformance.
- Unpredictable process – e.g. you often can’t predict how you will arrive at a root cause (even with guidelines like fishbone & 5-why’s).
- Unpredictable outcomes – e.g. you can’t predict the corrective action required for a given non-conformance.
- Unpredictable resources – e.g you don’t know what resources are required until you’ve defined the root cause / corrective action. What’s more ad hoc teams then form and disband at different stages to complete the process.
Now, you can try to track collaborative processes in an ERP/eQMS or some other database-driven system, but the actual work will still get done over email, in meetings, and on the phone.
That’s why they are really hard to measure!
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at a real world example.
If you try doing a time study of the last time you closed out a non-conformance or complaint with a proper root cause and corrective action, it might look like this:
^^^^^^ Do you see what is happening here?! ^^^^^^
1. Firstly, you have 8 different tools to manage this process, meaning you’ll likely face a visibility problem trying to keep on top of things because everything is in so many different systems. Other signs you face a visibility problem are as follows:
- Too many meetings
- Too much data transfer
- Too many siloes
- Not knowing who is doing what, where, when and why
2. You also have 10 different teams that are constantly changing at each stage of the process, meaning you’ll face an accountability problem because it’s so hard to assign ownership to each stage of every process. Other signs you face an accountability problem are as follows:
- Deadlines slipping
- Constant follow-ups
- Too many CCs
- Email ping pong
3. Finally, 85% of the steps are non-value addition activities, meaning you have an efficiency problem. Other signs you face an efficiency problem are as follows:
- Incomplete processes
- Wasted resources
- Long cycle times
- Frustrated customers
And this all presumes that the process itself is completed perfectly and doesn’t need to be repeated, as would be the case if someone makes a mistake anywhere. In that case, all the activities of the first attempt are now wasted.
So, let’s see how waste manifests in these collaborative processes?
We need to modify lean principles to take a look at waste in collaborative processes like quality management. In this case, we’ve reinterpreted the eight sources of waste as follows:
- Motion: Data transfer between different systems (eg email, Excel, QMS/ERP)
- Over-production: Excessive meetings
- Defects: Communication errors
- Inventory: Processes left incomplete (eg root causes, CAPAs, audits)
- Transportation: Too many emails / ccs / notifications
- Waiting: Unaccounted delays
- Non-utilized talent: Too many people at each step
- Extra-processing: Cumbersome processes & approvals
Part 2: Three steps to supercharge my quality processes
Finally! So what are the 3 steps I can take to supercharge my quality processes?
If you want to reduce these sources of waste in your quality processes, you’ll need to do the following:
- Create visibility: Bring all collaborative process activities in one place
- Improve accountability: Assign ownership for each step of a collaborative process
- Increase efficiency: Measure non-value addition activities in real-time
Step 1: Bring all collaborative process activities into one place
In order to bring collaborative process activities into one place, your solution needs to be able to do the following:
- Enable collaboration around processes: Humans bring creativity and context through collaboration. Your processes depend on this. Don’t try to suppress this.
- Ensure the system integrates with email: Many internal and external teams won’t come onto your system. Ensure you choose something that works well with email.
- Make data collection collaborative: Your system should help people to collaborate around gathering data, rather than imposing rigid databases and rules.
- Enable first, manage later: Get buy-in from your team/users to find out whether it actually makes their work easier or is seen as ‘extra work’.
Step 2: Assign accountability for each step of the collaborative process
In order to assign accountability for each step of a collaborative process, you need to be mindful of the following:
- Don’t over-structure your processes: Collaborative processes are inherently human and variable. Rigid structures suffocate creativity and collaboration.
- Democratize accountability: Make accountability transparent and negotiable to ensure that it actually works.
- Get broad participation: Don’t restrict participation to team leadership or to particular departments.
- Ensure only the right teams are involved: Broad participation does NOT mean everyone on every process…eliminate the ccs and unnecessary notifications.
Step 3: Measure non-value addition activities in real-time.
In order to measure and reduce waste in your collaborative processes in real-time, you’ll need to do the following:
- Create a single thread for each process: Your tool should be able to visualize for every single activity for each instance of every collaborative process.
- Measure actual wasted time: Your tool must measure non-value addition time from the underlying activity data in real-time.
- Ensure your analysis can be audited: You can increase trust in the data and get buy-in from your team if the data is transparent and auditable.
- Respect your people: Reducing wasted time can worry some people. Focus on improving average response times and not individual delays.
Part 3: Potential solutions
Great, so what are my options?
You currently have three options:
- Email / chat + spreadsheet
- Email / chat + project management tool
- Email / chat + eQMS or ERP
Let’s take a closer look at these options.
Part 4: There's a better way
If you think those options are cumbersome, there’s an easier way...
We built Unifize specifically for collaborative processes like quality management.
It helps quality management teams increase visibility, accountability, and efficiency by:
- Bringing collaborative process activities into one place
- Assigning accountability to each stage of the collaborative process
- Measuring (and reducing) wasted activities in real-time
Specifically, Unifize enables users to do the following:
- Collaborate from anywhere on simple-to-use, cloud-based mobile and desktop platform
- Increase accountability with objective-driven conversations that have a defined status, owner and participants
- Get visibility into all quality activities with a real-time list of conversations mapped to every instance of every quality process
- Reduce email ping pong and unnecessary follow-ups by bringing everyone into the right place to discuss specific objectives
- Create an auditable, measurable trail of time-stamped activities relating to each objective
- Make data collection easy & collaborative with customizable forms for each quality process
- Get fast-track adoption by allowing users to collaborate on quality processes right from their inboxes
- Give managers a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in their organization without having to be involved in a single conversation
- Get actionable quality insights and data from customizable forms and dashboards
Is it easy to setup?
It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen or implemented before. We can get you and your team up and running in less than an hour. You can start seeing results by the end of the day!
Will this integrate into your other ERP / eQMS or other software?
Yes, of course. You don’t have to worry. It easily integrates into the most common tools you are already using.
How much did this cost to build?
We spent $1M building and testing this suite over a period of 3 years.
How much does it cost to use?
The platform is free for life for up to 5 users, so you can get started right away. After that, it’s USD 40 per user per month. We offer bulk discounts for larger companies.
Is there a free trial?
In addition to being free for up to 5 users, we can also give you a 30 day free trial if you need more users from the get-go.
What happens if it doesn’t work for you?
We offer a 30-Day-Money-Back-Guarantee after your trial – just in case you sign up and don’t implement right away, or you are not experiencing positive results within 60 days.
What if you don’t have budget for this solution?
This is a process efficiency solution. This means that when you use it, you will save time and money – it’s a tool that will give you an ROI. Think of it as an investment, not a cost. But we are giving you a free trial to try it out anyway, so you are not risking anything.
Do you have to be technical to use this?
No. We designed the solution to make sure everyone is successful. We provide kick-off calls and support. Anyone who knows how to turn on their computer can use this product.
How much time does this actually save us?
We have data showing we’ve been able to reduce quality process cycle times by up to 95%. Think about that for a second….
What happens if this doesn’t work for you?
If this doesn’t work for you, just get your money back – No harm no foul…
How should you present this to your boss / senior management?
Use the trial and bring them results, first. Lead with proof and save everyone’s time
Let’s sum up this offer:
- Free for life for up to 5 users
- 30-Day-Money-Back-Guarantee After Trial (60 days risk-free)
- In-Depth Support
- No Contract (cancel anytime)
- No Cancellation Charges
If you serve in a quality function and want to improve accountability, build visibility and increase the efficiency of your team – and you want to work with experts – please book a call to speak to me!
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