LNS Research meets with many quality executives throughout the week. Nearly all are from Medium or Enterprise-size businesses and responsible for at least a handful of sites, and they are usually responsible for quality across several business units which have arisen from a mix of organic growth and acquisition. These leaders are often looking to address challenges, like:
- How consistently ensure quality standards across different business units
- How to benchmark against peers
- How to make changes and gain buy-in across the enterprise
The answer? Harmonization.
Commonly, the Operational Excellence (OpEx) picture is fragmented, particularly with acquisitions. Each BU may have its own people, processes, and technologies. In many of these cases, even core processes are ad hoc; read more about the state of industry in this post. Getting control of this situation is critical, and will invariably include formally defining processes, developing new training, and automating the new process with technology.
Most leaders immediately target harmonization. Why go through all of this effort without gaining a common framework when a common framework is instrumental for continuous improvement? However, it isn’t just quality’s decision or a corporate decision. Harmonizing by definition involves multiple functions and groups. While you can find a few change agents that will help, you’ll also find substantial change reluctance. “We need to do it differently/our way because…” What to do?
1. Understand Maturity
In these cases, it’s valuable to reference a maturity model and use it to guide progress. The LNS Maturity model defines maturity in 5 levels of Operational Excellence, where a company’s Operational Excellence landscape is a composite of its people, processes, and technology. Harmonizing processes are not enough – people (training, leadership, and culture) and technology are also critical to the overall maturity of a company. Make sure all three elements are a part of the consideration.
Much of industry is at an L1: Ad Hoc or L2: Controlled and are targeting L3: Harmonized, where a company has unified people, process, and technology at the organizational level. It’s a journey, from fragmented and highly variable Operational Excellence that prevents continuous improvement to harmonized. Let’s put L4 and L5 on the backburner for now, but suffice to say that it is not possible to get to those levels without becoming harmonized.
We described harmonization as flexibly unified. This is really at the heart of harmonization, which emphasizes defining a flexible OpEx model centered on a common core set of processes along with supporting technology and training/culture, while permitting variation driven by industry, product complexity, production volume, special requirements, etc.
For instance, a company may provide solutions to durable consumer goods companies, as well as to regulated industries such as medical devices or aerospace. Harmonization may result in this company using a core NPI process, perhaps including a standard approach to risk management, while only adding regulatory submissions for medical devices and detailed safety analysis for aerospace. Additionally, customer complaints could be addressed similarly to organizations, with eMDR supported just for complaints on medical devices. The key is identifying best practice approaches that drive positive outcomes, ensuring compliance, and avoiding excessive complexity.
After doing the groundwork, benchmark yourself against leaders in your industry or other industries. This can involve comparing your Operational Excellence to leaders in your industry – for instance, which processes have the top 20% automated with software, which metrics are used, and how does your performance compare with top performers? Direct contact with peers can be beneficial to exchange best practices and lessons learned.
3. Ensure Executive Support
When harmonizing, groups can often push back against the proposed changes. Top executive support is critical in getting everyone aligned. Make sure that you’ve communicated your plan with executives to ensure that they will support your proposal when pushback occurs. Much more guidance and details are in the LNS Research “Quality Management in the Boardroom: The Executive Business Case for EQMS,” but suffice to say that without executive support, the road gets much harder and much longer.
4. Check Your Organizational Structure
The correct organizational structure enables flexibility and agility, along with strong, consistent leadership. Organizational structure can have a profound influence on culture, as well as the ability to convey leadership strategies. LNS has done a substantial investigation of quality organizational structures, including surveying the market and capturing case studies. Some guidance that resulted from this research can be found here.
These are some answers to top concerns we see in industry. However, our research into these and other topics continues. For instance, the updated LNS quality management survey now tracks harmonization by processes to enable deeper benchmarking. Check back for updates on this important topic!