The expanding role of ProAdvisors is taking them into new areas of the marketplace. One such area, primarily as a result of involvement with specialized software like MISys Manufacturing, Industrios, and BatchMaster, is the manufacturing and production process sectors. As trusted advisors to this business sector, an understanding of Quality Control is essential to your successful migration.
Just what is Quality Control?
In a manufacturing or process production environment, "quality" improves reliability and increases production. Fewer defects translates to fewer warranty claims and increased customer satisfaction. Manufacturing and Production process improvements also eliminates waste, improves workflow and enhances workplace safety, all contributing to the bottom line.
Effective Quality Control continually monitors product quality according to established standards and removes any undesirable deviations. Quality Assurance is actually a specific part of Quality Control where in Quality Control personnel retrieve information from a variety of sources associated with the manufacturing process to analyze what QC steps are required.
Who Needs Quality Control?
Every manufacturer, big or small, no matter what manufacturing sector they are in, can benefit from Quality Control. The problem lies in the fact that Quality Control, at least formal QC, seems to be associated with only large, manufacturing operations, not enough small manufacturers are utilizing QC to help them squeeze the best performance or products from their manufacturing businesses. Most small manufacturers think that Quality Control is too expensive, or too complicated, or too sophisticated for their small plants; but QC is not as difficult as people think it is, and it can save a lot of time and money later on. Here are some ways you can begin implementing QC initiatives for your small manufacturing business clients:
Standardize QC with Processes
Ultimately the quality of products produced by a manufacturer, or within a process production facility, are a result of its entire production system. Successful manufacturers recognize that quality is not the responsibility of a single department or activity; rather it is the responsibility of the entire organization from the executives to the production floor; from the planners and marketers to the sellers and distributors.
The easiest way to handle Quality Control is to standardize everything from start to finish. One way to create standardization is to write a thorough process that can be distributed throughout the organization, not just to the employees who are responsible for QC. This 'write-up' may take the form of a workflow diagram and process/procedural outlines, spreadsheets or even a simple 'word' document.
Another way is to incorporate Quality Control functionality into your manufacturing/production software, even if that is a part of your accounting package. For example, MISys Manufacturing, that works as an adjunct to both QuickBooks and Sage accounting software, allows you to build in both 'human resource' (that can be used for 'internal inspectors') and 'outisde services' (that can be used for external inspectors, testing, etc.) as part of the Bill of Manufacturing, at any level of the 'Bill of Materials' or 'Routing'. BatchMaster software ingrains Quality Control into the 'batch production' processes.
Trusted 'Manufacturing' Advisors need to have a thorough knowledge of not only the fundamental uses of this type of software, but how to 'mold the software' to incorporate specific Quality Control aspects.
When a manufacturer or production facility becomes large enough they may choose to make use of even more sophisticated Quality Control software, like UniPoint Quality Management, that makes compliance with standards like ISO a highly granular component of their operations. Obviously this means an entirely new 'learning curve' for the Trusted 'Manufacturing' Advisor, stepping beyond QuickBooks or Sage with a plug-in, and working with entirely new, highly sophisticated products. The choice is your, either learn new products, team up with someone knowledgeable in the products, or risk loosing your long-term client to another consultant.
Design with Quality in Mind
Modern Quality Control is based on the tenet that quality should be designed into the manufacturing process, not tested in. Philip Crosby, in his 1996 text, ‘Reflections on Quality’ summarized this by saying, “Quality has to be caused, not controlled.”
Principles for designing-in quality include:
- Customers define quality-incorporate that definition into designs upfront
- Delighting customers requires insight into their motivations
- Good decisions are based on valid data and rigorous scrutiny
- Sustainable solutions require a systemic approach
- Successful projects engage and respect all team members
I mentioned in a webinar recently that being a trusted advisor to the manufacturing sector meant stepping out of the 'accounting/bookkeeping' office and into the plant, and that means not just the shop floor either. You must get to know and understand your manufacturing clients from the ground up....really from the 'drawing' to 'completion'. Many small manufacturers with whom you work, will look to you as they are growing to assist them in all aspects of their businesses, and this includes incorporation of Quality Control. QC begins with the design, if you, their Trusted Advisor, can't at least 'read a blueprint' (well they aren't really blueprints any more, so I really mean 'engineering drawing') you either need to take a class, or take a step aside and head back to the 'bookkeeping.' How are you going to assist them in designing a process if you can't even follow the production steps?
Create a Quality Control ‘Environment’
Quality needs to be managed as a system or process itself. Quality Control is more than the documents that define it. A good quality system is characterized by:
- Adherence to well defined standard operating procedures and policies that minimize variation in production throughout the organization.
- Proactive identification of potential problems and customer-oriented solutions.
- Discipline and prioritization of resources to implement and document solutions on a sustained basis.
As a Trusted 'Manufacturing' Advisor you need to see the big picture, you need to look beyond the 'one person' on the shop floor who has always been looked to as the 'QC Guy', and see how the 'team' as a whole is approaching Quality. Are their aspects of the production schema where the quality 'ball is being dropped' only to have to be 'picked-up' by subsequent operations or personnel? Do some supervisors tend to overlook quality issues thinking that 'the next shift' will catch the problem before it goes out the door? But problem identification isn't the only aspect, what mechanisms are in place for 'reward of high quality' and 'penalty for low quality'? Trusted Advisors are many times in better positions to identify, and recommend solutions than internal personnel, who appear to management as 'only looking out for their own interests.'
Flexibility is key for Quality Control. Especially for small manufacturers where processes and procedures will require revision and improvement. The ability to incorporate employee feedback into your QC processes is essential. Accordingly, because Quality Control is a recurring task, employees with distinct QC responsibilities should check in with process managers throughout the Quality Control process. These managers should help to improve and correct errors in the process as it’s being implemented, in order to minimize time spent troubleshooting later on. When you get to know these people, really on a one-on-one basis they will view you as another 'team member' there to help them make everything better, rather than "some hot shot consultant who has come in to 'take names and kick butt."
As such one critical area of 'flexibility' is in your own thinking, as the client's Trusted Advisor. You can not approach every manufacturing or process production client, in the same way. You can't enter into their business with the concept, "this is how I have implemented QC in the last 14 plants I have been in, and this is how it is going to be implemented here." As I have said previously, you have to get to know the business, every aspect of the business, and that takes time.
What about REALLY small manufacturers or fabrication shops?
You can implement Quality Control even for your tiny manufacturing clients. After you’ve helped them establish their guidelines, processes and checkpoints, all you have to do is coach them in following those processes to ensure a quality product. Perhaps even more so than with larger clients, as a Trusted Manufacturing Advisor you will probably need to assist them specifically with:
- Write-up of processes for standardization.
- Guidance in following the processes or helping them find someone to help with Quality Control (which might even be you on a part-time basis), or you might partner with a Quality Control specialist in your area and then suggest that your client outsource their QC work.
- Implement of tools to achieve Quality Control, such as spreadsheets or online tools that specialize in quality control assessment. Where applicable you can assist them in the incorporation of these tools into their processes, where appropriate.
Such Relationships and Responsibilities are On-going
A lot of ProAdvisors approach clients, even larger 'Enterprise' clients with the concept that you are going to implement their software, help them get trained and up to speed, and eventually the client no longer needs you. In this type of practice you are continually on the 'look-out' for the next client because you are loosing clients almost as fast, if not faster, than they are dialing your phone.
Even when implementing a sophisticated 3rd party solution like Fishbowl, ACCTivate, MISys or any number of other products, you may take the approach, I make the sale, get the thing set-up, help them with the basics, do some training, and then it's between them and customer support to get all the bugs worked out. You tell yourself, "all of these businesses are pretty much the same, inventory, warehouse, light manufacturing, and I don't have time to learn everything about their business."
Both of these are part of the reason why we see so much 'turnover' in accounting and more sophisticated solutions. Many of the clients I take on have been through a couple of accounting systems, or perhaps one or two other inventory or manufacturing solutions prior to ever calling me. They are disgusted with the fact that neither their 'sales guy', nor the 'customer support team' for these products understands their needs; they want someone who can actually 'help them' with the best solution configured specifically for their requirements. That is what separates a 'Trusted Advisor' from a mere 'consultant'. So which are you going to be?