Continuous improvement through positivity

A Quality Management System is never fully complete or perfect. We need to establish metrics or monitoring methods for our processes, products, and services to gather information on how we can achieve the desired performance or quality level. When measurement or monitoring results then indicate deviations from accepted values, we must react to the situation: identify the reasons for the deviation and implement appropriate corrective actions.

In quality management, there’s talk of continuous improvement, where the key is to actively identify areas for improvement and take action on them. But isn’t anything enough; don’t satisfied customers or well-received services matter?

Praise has poured in, but it doesn’t count as feedback

It’s important to highlight operational shortcomings and address them, but equally, messages of success provide input for development. Often, expressions of customer satisfaction with our service or product are not even considered proper feedback!

Service that receives positive feedback can be highlighted as a good example, information about the underlying factors leading to its success can be shared throughout the organization, and its functionality can be supported in the future.

Positive feedback should sometimes be actively sought from various sources: customers, staff, management, suppliers, subcontractors, partners, owners, the board… Recognizable and easy channels for conveying received feedback help capture even the weakest signals for analysis.

Pause and Admire

At times, it’s worth taking a break from development and examining what has been achieved. For individuals or organizations focused on improvement, tasks and projects never end. But besides economic metrics, what is the state and backward-looking trend of our processes, services, or products? Metrics provide precise information about our progress, but what’s our intuition? And what’s the management’s perspective?

In management system assessments, we ask our customers’ top management and experts in the relevant field what has changed or happened since the last assessment. Typically, the interviewees look at each other, and someone says, “Nothing significant has happened, except…” And then various successfully completed projects, initiated major initiatives, new services, significant growth in the customer base, etc., start to emerge. Hectic everyday life easily obscures the bigger picture, and a planned and scheduled backward-looking situational analysis is necessary to clarify it.

Development naturally arises from various sources, such as different error situations, strategy updates, and customer projects, but it’s also good to focus occasionally on the “softer topics” related to continuous improvement, such as gratitude and recognition. How and in what ways to thank colleagues, suppliers, customers, etc. for the development opportunities they’ve identified in our operations.

So, do we even give thanks, or does someone reporting a process flaw get criticized and tasked with fixing it? We’re approaching a significant matter here – culture. What is the organization’s quality or safety culture – open and learning from mistakes, or secretive and not intervening in unwanted events?

Usually, openness in the organization and senior management’s positive attitude towards improvement go a long way. This is important to keep in mind when building a quality system. When several people from different levels of the organization are involved in building the system and influencing its content, procedures, and goal setting (not to mention quality policy), we’re already on a good path. Communication and awareness naturally increase as the project progresses, and at the same time, the effectiveness of the quality system is ensured.

Jyrki Lahnalahti
Product owner, Kiwa Comply

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