It is crucial for organizations to have a thorough understanding of their quality management system (QMS) and the various business processes and operations, since it helps determine the true quality posture of the organization and implement necessary changes to improve the QMS (Rocha-Lona, Garza-Reyes, & Kumar, 2013). One commonly used approach to diagnose the performance and effectiveness of the existing QMS and its maturity level, is self-assessment and scoring of the organization’s core processes to identify strengths and weaknesses (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). It is also important to incorporate auditing in the analysis of the QMS, as it helps gather additional data on the status of the QMS, as well as on organizational compliance to established standards which includes standards set by customers, vendors, partners, etc., and those that are mandated by the government or other industry-specific organizations (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). Performing self-assessment and auditing will help in the development & deployment of an effective quality strategy.
QMS Maturity Assessment and Scoring
The first step in determining the maturity level and effectiveness of an organization’s QMS, is to perform a self-assessment of the underlying processes and scoring them based on an accepted set of standards that has been selected for performing the self-assessment (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). Most quality assessment methodologies are built on key principles of Total Quality Management (TQM) and score the processes based on the level of adoption under each criteria and sub-criteria, which in turn is used to determine the overall maturity level (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). Each of the organizational processes must be defined, measured, and analyzed, to determine its effectiveness and efficiency in meeting customer requirements and other standards, and to ensure alignment with strategic goals, which is the converted into a performance scorecard and used by the organization’s decision makers to determine needed improvements (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013).
The self-assessment results and scores are often used to make critical business decisions, so it is crucial that the evaluation of QMS Maturity is carried out by a multidisciplinary team of skilled professionals from different functional areas and different levels of the organization, which ensures that the assessment is reliable and has been performed by taking different perspectives and feelings into consideration (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). A well-qualified and well-structured team will be able to interpret and diagnose the data collected in the right manner and present the results in a compelling format, which can help provide sufficient credibility to the overall QMS maturity assessment, expediating buy-in from top management and stakeholders (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013).
Organizations may find performing a self-assessment to be challenging, especially if it is their first attempt, so following a standard approach can alleviate the stress and confusion to some extent (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). Recommended stages of performing a self-assessment process include: i) Setting the Organizational Environment for Self-Assessment, ii) Selecting a Business Excellence Model, iii) Forming and Training the Assessment Team, iv) Collecting the Data and Information Needed for the Self-Assessment, v) Assessing and Scoring, vi) Achieving Consensus, and vii) Producing the Feedback Report to Review Committee (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013).
Embedding Auditing to Ensure Quality
Performing a Quality Management Audit is a very crucial, and often mandated, activity taken up by organizations, to ensure a consistent and expected level of quality is maintained in their products or services. Auditing can be described as a systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining fact or other information which are relevant and verifiable, and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which the audit criteria, as defined by relevant policies, procedures or requirements, are fulfilled (American Society for Quality [ASQ], 2019). The audits performed in organizations can be categorized into three main types (ASQ, 2019):
- Product Audit – an examination of a specific products or service, to evaluate whether it aligns with the relevant requirements and to ensure that it meets expected standards and specifications
- Process Audit – undertaken to evaluate if the processes are working within established limits
- System Audit – verifies applicable elements of the system are appropriate, effective, and have been developed, documented, and implemented, as per the specified requirements
An audit can usually be performed in three different ways: i) first-party audit – assessment against an established standard is carried out by a team internal to the organization, ii) second-party audit – evaluation of the organization’s QMS that is performed by a customer or supplier, and iii) third-party audit – performed by an independent party not involved in any contract with the customer and supplier, but acceptable to both of them (Rocha et al., 2013). Irrespective of the type of quality audit or who performs it, the common stages of an audit are (Rocha et al., 2013):
- Planning: aspects like purpose, timelines, scope, resources, etc., are identified and defined.
- Implementation: deals with collecting relevant information, comparing it against the expected standards or criteria, and the initial review and analysis of the comparison findings.
- Reporting: document the audit findings in the form of reports and debriefs to the organization stakeholders, outlining the differences between the existing standards vs the expected ones.
Importance of Assessment and Auditing
Both self-assessment scoring and auditing help make Quality Management Systems (QMS) effective and efficient, so it can produce and enhance quality in business processes. Scoring helps measure the performances of various aspects of the organizations like the employees, management, business processes, etc., and compare them against established standards. Scoring involves rating each action performed based on various criteria that most suitable to the organization. For example, in call centers each interaction or call is graded based on criteria like: greetings, adherence to script, conflict resolutions, and implementation of resources, which are covered by polices and standards embedded throughout the organization’s QMS and help ensure quality (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013).
Performing a self-assessment of the QMS alone will not add much value, the results must be incorporated into an actionable plan that can improve quality. Integrating the scoring results in the quality strategy will help organizations for the following reasons (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013):
- Allows us to identify and monitor areas where performances are not adequate and fail to produce the desired quality, helping to construct effective & efficient enhancement techniques.
- Converts enhancement actions into enhancement agenda – a list of objectives, plans, strategies, and techniques, outlined based on vitality and can help execute the overall QMS enhancement.
- Help execute, assess, and maintain improvements in organizations to keep them sustainable.
- Record the results from the improvement, which helps organizations to identify the time line of potential future improvement, as well as track the progress of the improvements.
Auditing plays a similar role to scoring in organizations but focuses on the compliance aspect of QMS instead. Some key benefits of performing a quality audit include: i) compare the documented procedures versus real-world practices, ii) locate deficiencies, iii) identify potential issues which lead to penalties before they occur, iv) optimize time, resource, money, etc., v) initiate corrective and preventive actions (CAPA) to remediate noncompliance, vi) ensure CAPA actions are completed as expected and on time, and vii) recommend ways to optimize the company’s quality management and compliance practices to lower cost of quality (Rapaport, n.d.).
Key Criteria & Artifacts to be Considered
Self-Assessment and Auditing are equally important to ensuring quality, with activities that often overlap, even though the overall intent is different, i.e., self-assessment deals with examining existing processes and controls to identify strengths, gaps, weaknesses, etc., and analyzing them, to determine corrective actions that ensure continuous improvement, whereas, auditing is aimed at analyzing the processes/controls to ensure compliance to specific standards (Karapetrovic & Willborn, 2001). Most organizations understand the importance of self-assessment and auditing, but they may not know what criteria to consider, so referring to universally accepted standards such as ISO 9001 can help in planning and implementing the self-assessment and auditing efforts. The key criteria to consider when performing self-assessment, can be grouped into categories that closely relate to the principles of TQM as illustrated below in Figure 1 (van Vliet, 2009).
Key Principles of TQM
The categories further be divided into sub-categories that delve deeper into the maturity of the QMS, and include areas like: context, leadership, policy, roles and responsibilities, support, infrastructure, awareness, documentation, design and development practices, change management, third-party collaboration, procurement, delivery, post-delivery, and so on (DQS Inc., 2017). All crucial activities/tasks that contribute to these criteria must be evaluated as a part of the assessment.
The categories to be considered when auditing the QMS are mostly the same as those used for self-assessment, but the requirements are comparatively more stringent since it is a mandatory activity that needs to be performed to comply with organizational, customer, industry, and/or legal standards (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). So, irrespective of the audit type, the focus of each stage of auditing is on collecting accurate information and detailed documentation, such as: Audit Plan, Test/Measurement/Inspection Results, Sampling Data, Interviews, Manuals, Instructions, Reports, Auditor’s Report, Debrief, etc., all of which are aimed at providing facts (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013).
Organizations use audits and scoring measures to visualize the current quality posture, correspondence to standards and regulations, and discrepancies within their processes (DQS Inc., 2017). Diagnosing the current status of the organization’s QMS and its business processes plays an important role in improving its quality and involves multiple phases: defining the maturity level of the QMS helps provide a better understanding of the organization’s capabilities, structure, processes, etc., which along with the self-assessment exercise, can help identify opportunities of improvement (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). Incorporating the results and feedback these activities in the organization’s quality plan and strategy will ensure effective implementation of the quality improvements (Rocha-Lona et al., 2013). Quality Audits are also often conducted as part of the diagnosis since most organizations are mandated to do so to ensure compliance to standards, which not only helps them prevent penalties and legal fees, but also helps retain their reputation among customers and partners, while helping to reduce quality costs and improve overall quality.
- American Society for Quality. (2019). What is Auditing? Retrieved from https://asq.org/quality-resources/auditing
- DQS Inc. (2015, May 12). ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System assessment checklist. Retrieved from http://dqsus.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/5RP2-ISO9001_2015.pdf
- Karapetrovic, S., & Willborn, W. (2001). Audit and self-assessment in quality management: Comparison and compatibility. Managerial Auditing Journal, 16(6), 366-377. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.libproxy.db.erau.edu/docview/274639104?accountid=27203
- Rapaport, M. (n.d.). Top benefits of conducting internal quality audits. Retrieved from https://www.iqs.com/top-benefits-conducting-internal-quality-audits/
- Rocha-Luna, L., Garza-Reyes, J.A., & Kumar, V. (2013). Building quality management systems: Selecting the right methods and tools. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. van Vliet, V. (2009). Total Quality Management (TQM). Retrieved from https://www.toolshero.com/quality-management/total-quality-management-tqm/