Four critical tools in a Quality Management System
Striving to meet an undefined goal is the quickest route to failure. However, some projects are often started without clearly defining the steps to success. Others are ill-equipped because they lack tools that can help objectively define their progress or status.
Quality Management Systems, which objectively define and organize a project and ensure its chances of success, have been developed to provide project managers and decision-makers with this type of quantitative information.
Defining Quality Management Systems
Quality Management Systems (QMS) provide a standard framework for the visualization of many project facets. A QMS is made of tools that align and organize in an effort to improve its effectiveness and ensure success.
Because projects vary widely by every possible metric – activities required, number of people involved, scale, budget, goals, timeline, and more – an overarching, generic framework provides a platform to organize and understand every detail of a project in a digestible structure.
QMS have sub-elements, or tools, that enable users to tailor its use to specific project needs. There are seven conventional QMS tools: flow charts, Ishikawa diagrams, checklists, Pareto charts, histograms, scattergrams, and control charts.
Tools Used in QMS
Flow charts offer many benefits and ensure a process is clearly defined by all involved. They serve as a way to document processes, avoid errors before the process is underway and quickly share a process with external contributors or stakeholders.
Flow charts can be designed to efficiently indicate who or what groups are involved in specific steps. They define the types of tasks involved, indicate timing for measurements or evaluations, account for variables, and define alternate process flows for various outcomes and statuses. Flow charts are a powerful tool for defining, analyzing, and improving processes.
The System Reliability Center (SRC), a well-established engineering consultancy and process analysis firm, defines a scatter as “a graphical, rather than statistical, means of examining whether or not two parameters are related to each other.”
This type of graphical representation can be used to evaluate correlations between two factors. After gathering appropriate data, one variable (for example, number of workers) is plotted along the X-axis and the other (for example, number of widgets completed) is plotted along the Y-axis. A tight gathering indicates a correlation or trend, and plots scattered across the graph, with no apparent pattern or grouping, have no correlation.
Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th-century economist, coined the 80/20 rule. His theory stated that the majority (80%) of wealth was controlled by a minority (20%) of the population. Other theorists and researchers adapted his model to fit a wide array of applications.
According to the SRC, “separating the ‘vital few’ from the ‘trivial many’ can be done using a diagram known as a Pareto chart.” A Pareto chart uses a bar graph format, and it lines values across a horizontal axis in numerical order, from greatest to least, to quickly reveal the biggest perpetrators of whatever problem is being addressed.
The value of this tool lies in the belief that the majority (80%) of problems are caused by a much smaller contingency (20%) of possible causes. Concentrating on the few problems causing the most significant issues saves time and resources. Conversely, this tool can also find out what twenty percent of efforts, products, or processes are producing the bulk (80%) of profits or desirable outcomes.
Histograms are a type of bar graph that displays a data set within an X- and Y-axis. A histogram graphically displays a data distribution set, enabling a quick comparison of actual performance to projected specifications or targets.
Histograms work best in scenarios involving large data sets so their creators can summarize or “chunk” data into easily digestible formats for decision-making. Histograms provide a performance overview for products in development, a team’s performance over time, a success vs. failure rate, or other important metric — at a glance. They can effectively display large amounts of information and make it easier to translate lots of small pieces of data into an overarching trend.
Using QMS tools during the planning, execution, and analysis stages of a project can yield huge dividends in the form of saved resources, efficient problem-solving, and clear communication. QMS are critical for any project manager.
An advanced degree program for engineers who want to become leaders without losing their engineering foundation, Ohio University’s online Master of Engineering Management focuses on leadership and management skills, and their direct relationship to engineering process improvement, project management, effective communication, and innovative solutions.