EQMS for SMB: Balancing Growth and Quality

Posted by Mike Roberts on Thu, Oct 18, 2012 @ 06:00 AM

Closing a significant new customer or a number of smaller customers can be the game changer that moves a company forward on a new trajectory. However, while this growth is exciting, it may also be a bit intimidating, especially for smaller players in the market. If management isn’t vigilant and proactive, new challenges such as balancing higher volumes with quality specifications can quickly become serious concerns.

small business quality managementIn a recent end-user conversation discussing Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) strategy, LNS Research spoke with a machine and tooling company experiencing similar growing pains. This particular company spent years focusing on high complexity machining operations, mainly targeted at prototypes for the aerospace and defense industry. Over the past few years, though, the company has moved to more of a manufacturing model that has driven tremendous growth (>500%).

Below, we’ll dive into the critical quality issues that affected this company during the growth period and touch on how it found success with the adoption of a progressive quality management strategy.

Outdated Quality Management Processes and Systems

In a small operation, it’s typical for quality management processes and applications to be homegrown. For low volumes of products, while not ideal, manual and paper-based tools are usually sufficient for validating quality specifications. Unfortunately, this model is not scalable. The machine and tooling company was faced with this issue during its growth period. Manual processes and applications that were once ample were quickly becoming obsolete.

The larger an organization becomes, and consequently more complex, the greater the need for a centralized, standardized database with streamlined intelligence. With disparate management systems in place, the machining and tooling company could feel the quality of products slipping and began to consider updating both its technology and IT architecture.

Visibility provided by a modern EQMS solution delivers the ability to monitor and leverage data for actionable improvements. However, moving straight from homegrown systems and knowledge to an EQMS can be quite the jump. Realizing this, as well as the growing disconnect between quality and volume, the company’s management took a tiered approach. Tweet about this post!

Moving toward Enterprise Quality Management

At a small scale, the machining and tooling company was able to deliver high quality products. Despite having a quality-conscious culture, processes and systems needed to be updated as production ramped up. Management is taking the following approach, which is a good example of adopting a modern quality management system and strategy:

Discuss ISO 9001 as a first step: ISO 9001 standards were created to facilitate the delivery of high quality products based on industry best practices, standards, regulatory requirements, and other specifications. Moving to these standards is an important first step toward a strong quality management framework.  

Build a culture of continuous improvement: Quality-consciousness at a small scale may not translate well for larger scale models. As a company grows and production becomes more complex, its knowledge should strengthen accordingly. Joining industry associations may help with this. By building a culture of continuous improvement, management can routinely revisit processes to see what’s working and what needs to be improved.  

Move to an EQMS: After working ISO 9001 and a culture of continuous improvement into the quality management system, it’s time to begin utilizing EQMS functionalities. Management should select a solution, rolling out a global implementation of (at the very least) automation and document management functionalities in no longer than a six month time frame.

Analyzing the Strategy

Currently, the machining and tooling company is in the process of building ISO 9001 and a culture of continuous improvement into operations. With a tight schedule, we believe this is aggressive timing, since smaller companies typically spend a lot of time with paper-based systems. However, because of its unique growth pattern, we think the company is poised to rebalance higher quality with the jump in volume. Tweet about this post!

We agree with this strategy: build processes and culture first, and then move as quickly as possible to supporting operations with software. In the past, we’ve seen similar companies find success after employing this model. Over time, we will revisit this organization and hopefully report on its quality management success. For now, the strategy and vision are encouraging, with all signs pointing towards the right approach.

For more information on EQMS, please read LNS Resarch's EQMS Best Practices Guide. The guide discusses building a quality management system into operational excellence.

EQMS Solution Selection Guide

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EQMS: Understanding the Drivers behind Global Adoption

EQMS: Refining IBS’s Quality Management Strategy

Microsoft SharePoint as a Platform for EQMS and Collaboration

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Tags: EQMS, Quality Management System