Quality objectives and planning to achieve them – Part 1

It has always been a curiosity of mine, with 20 years in manufacturing and another 20 in quality (yes – I’m THAT old!) I wonder how organizations come up with quality objectives. I wonder even more at the conversations…

The obvious first question is, “Have you established quality objectives?” The Standard says we must do so in section 6.2.1. The organization shall establish quality objectives at relevant functions, levels and processes needed for the quality management system.

But ISO has muddied the waters a bit by adding the relevant functions, levels and processes needed for the quality management system part, which strikes me as an over-statement, a cry for of common-sense where there is none. At least we get the point. Quality objectives are for the whole company, not just the quality department. But then the Standard goes on to say:

The quality objectives shall:
a) be consistent with the quality policy;
b) be measurable;
c) take into account applicable requirements;
d) be relevant to conformity of products and services and to enhancement of customer satisfaction;
e) be monitored;
f) be communicated;
g) be updated as appropriate.

Lordy, Lordy, Lordy! Now the fun starts. By intention, the International Standard is not crafted to be prescriptive, in fact, that’s the last thing ISO wants but here it is in all its glory and in my opinion the prescription begins and ends with a little troll sitting behind a desk in Geneva, Switzerland trying to justify his existence because this element is only a small piece of the big business pizza puzzle. And, if the 2015 revision is to be taken seriously as a ‘business model’ this element is sorely in need of a re-do. And, then there’s that relevant functions and levels part – but we’ll get there. First, let’s break it down into manageable pieces. The standard says:

Top Quality Management ObjectivesThe quality objectives shall: a) be consistent with the quality policy;

Well, that’s fairly straight forward because the Standard also tells us what the Quality Policy must say (again with the prescriptiveness.)

 

Top management shall establish, implement and maintain a quality policy that:
a) is appropriate to the purpose and context of the organization and supports its strategic direction;
b) provides a framework for setting quality objectives;
c) includes a commitment to satisfy applicable requirements;
d) includes a commitment to continual improvement of the quality management system.

The requirements for the Quality Policy resides in Clause 5 and the Objectives in Clause 6 so it’s clear which must come first and inclusion of and supports its strategic direction makes sense if the Standard is a business model. But this element goes on to include a commitment to satisfy applicable requirements, whatever they may be and commitment to continual improvement of the quality management system which explains all the ‘cookie-cutter’ quality policies we see out there that fail to address and supports its strategic direction.

It all ends up being some regurgitated Pablum devoid of the loftiness envisioned by the little troll and usually documented as:

  • Meet or exceed customer requirements for the purpose of enhancing customer satisfaction

By making content mandatory, the Standard diminishes its role as a business model and re-directs focus back to the quality function. But, we digress – On to establishing quality objectives and my major concern. The Standard says:

The quality objectives shall:
b) be measurable;

Again, I understand the intent here and realize my concern is with the verbiage (the tip of the much bigger ‘communication iceberg’) because I don’t think it says what they think it says. Alright, stay with me on this because we’re going for a linguistics journey…

As with any word, the meaning is part ‘general acceptance’ and part ‘colloquial’ which means the same word can have many meanings depending on interpretations between issuer and receiver. This is why the Standards’ review and revision process is such a challenge – translation into all the various languages is almost insurmountable.

Word Origin and History for measurable adj. c.1300, “moderate,” from Old French mesurable “restrained, moderate; sensible; restricted”

Word origin courtesy of Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Measurable
1. Able to be measured.
2. Of significant importance.

Regardless of colloquialism, there is always a resonance with word origin, in this case “restrained, moderate; sensible; restricted.” These words connote a go / no-go state, an either or, qualitative relationship with the world, yet when we consider ‘general acceptance’ of the word measure, we want to perceive a quantitative component – a finite judgement as to value – to measure in comparison with something else.

Could one not argue, however, that the binary system (0s and 1s) might be used to ‘measure’ the open or closed state value and be true to the definition, in short, a yea or nay and because they’re assigned integers, could it not be argued that quantitative measurement has been achieved? The problem with this argument is there are very few auditors who are linguistically inclined and the connotation of quantitative measurement translates, in their minds, as a Likert Scale (1 – 5, least to best) at minimum.

Now you see my dilemma – to be true to the Standard, you may alienate the auditor but to satisfy the auditor you may lose the intent of the Standard! And, doesn’t it explain a lot because by using this one small example the whole auditing schema becomes laid bare? It is the auditor, not ISO, who determines the rules and as many of you have seen, especially if you’ve had to deal with multiple auditors, the rules change.

Different interpretations of the requirements by different auditors (or if you have a really good auditor, who learns from experience, a change in position from one audit to another) and all the many BS explanations of why this happens is the root of all evil. So, what can one do?

We’ll look at how to deal with it in part 2 …

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