What are the most significant issues in quality management for SMEs? – 2023 Edition

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Said

Every company faces challenges regardless of its size or revenue, but what are the most significant issues in quality management for SMEs (small and medium enterprises)? 

In this article, I will try to answer this question and give some tips on what companies can do to overcome these challenges.

What are examples of quality issues in an organization?

A quality issue is anything that challenges the expectations of a product or service when a customer receives it.

It doesn’t need to be the end customer. If, for example, a part moves from task A to task B in a way we can’t complete task B, that’s a quality issue.

Similarly, if you require some information from a colleague to deliver a service, which is incorrect or not clear enough, that’s another quality issue.

What are the emerging challenges in quality management for smes?

I have broken them down into nine different issues:

  1. Culture
  2. Bureaucracy
  3. Communication
  4. Priorities
  5. Lack of vision
  6. Lack of processes
  7. Lack of responsibilities
  8. Lack of investment in new technology
  9. Training and development

Culture

One of the things that amaze me in some organizations is the ability of senior management not to be able to lead their companies.

Leadership is a skill like any other. You can learn about it. You don’t need to be a born leader, but at the same time, don’t expect to be able to run a company just because you have a nice idea.

If you run a really small company, learn from the old school companies who have decided to bring people back to the office after Covid.

They are ultimately challenging the lifestyle created for many employees in the last two and a half years and damaging their relationships. 

Companies and people evolve. Life events or technology developments shape them.

If your employees are not happy working for you, how can they best serve your clients? 

Develop a supportive culture

Develop a culture that people want to part and be proud of from the beginning.

Bureaucracy

Speed can be your best ally or your demise.

When scaling up, beware of organizational overload. When many departments and people need to contribute, review, and approve a task, document, or deliverable, they lose valuable time.

Design your processes in a way that teams can achieve organizational excellence. 

Smaller companies have a significant advantage over large ones in this case. If you leverage them well enough, speed and quality can make your company skyrocket in just a few months.

bureaucracy

Communication

Lack of communication affects large and small companies in an equal manner.

In smaller companies, people sometimes think everybody is aligned and clear on the direction the company has or what the deliverable is.

Find balance in all things. If your organization is small, standardize the communication paths early on to save you some time.

Establishing a clear flow of information, upwards and downwards, should be the priority. If everybody knows what needs to happen, we will increase our chances of delivering right-first-time.

telephones

Priorities

In manufacturing, I have seen companies define their values as:

  1. Safety
  2. Quality
  3. Delivery

Safety is a must. We want everybody to come to work and leave work healthy and fit to live their lives.

Quality is all about ensuring we produce with a zero-defect policy in mind.

Delivery is all about making sure a customer receives a product on time.

The reality, in my experience, is that safety shares number one with sales. Companies want to sell as many products as possible, and they think the quality is a given.

If you push for sales and think quality will be there regardless, you leave money on the table. The processes won’t be there to support the volumes and will eventually have issues.

Scale from the bottom, not from the top. Create processes to allow you to grow safely.

prioritise scrabble

Lack of vision

I have seen this both in large and small organizations. When the vision isn’t clear, people don’t know what they are trying to achieve.

When setting goals, we must define them so that everybody understands what the outcome must be.

Small organizations miss opportunities when the vision isn’t clear. The ability to scale up requires forward-thinking and risk management. 

Set the vision and stick to it.

vision

Lack of processes

If we have a clear vision, we need to lay the steps to accomplish that.

In smaller organizations, leaders tend to assume that there is one clear path to that goal once they set the vision. 

I have seen processes lack critical steps in large organizations, or they might not be regularly updated.

The reality is that there are many different ways to achieve the same thing. If we compound the lack of communication with the lack of processes, we create a recipe for disaster.

Invest early in defining processes, and we will always have a clear goal in front of us.

Lack of responsibilities

Who does what and when? This question is not even straightforward in some of the best organizations.

The sole purpose of job descriptions is to define what a role needs to deliver. Spend time describing them, don’t just copy something from Google.

I have often seen people getting stuck with tasks not relevant to their roles. It could be when a company is undergoing a restructure or when they don’t have enough resources.

In smaller organizations, leaders need to ensure the vision is clear and lay the path to accomplishing it effectively using their resources.

It’s okay to have people wearing different hats early on, but we need to communicate our expectations. Hence, there are no surprises for our employees or us.

responsibilities

Lack of technology

Technology has made our lives easier.

The same thing applies to work. A few paragraphs above, I talked about speed and the necessity to remove waste to achieve more.

Technology is here to help us automate tasks, avoid simple mistakes and increase our output. We must embrace it.

Smaller companies might lack the budget to introduce a specific tool. A cost-benefit analysis might be helpful to determine whether the investment is worth it or not.

Leverage technology to achieve more, plan ahead, and strive for your vision.

Technology is everywhere

Lack of training

If we have leveraged technology, we must ensure everybody knows how to use it.

If we want our workforce to use the newer tools at their disposal, we need to train them on how to use them.

If we are in a small company, we might hire a senior member not to have to train them. 

The reality is that regardless of the size, we need to develop people, and we also need to build ourselves.

Nobody is the final product, and every day is a school day. If we train people and they feel we care for them, they will care for us.

Training is one of the most requested things by employees in any business

How can quality management be improved?

It is not easy, but defining a QMS is the first step toward that goal.

To remove issues in quality management and overall improve our business, we must address the above mentioned issues and continuously review our processes and procedures.

The continuous improvement cycle has no end. Our competition also aims to deliver more.

continuous improvement cycle

Conclusion

The most significant issues in quality management are related to people and leadership. Some tips to improve them are below.

Ensure your employees are proud to work for you. People want to be part of a culture that resembles their values.

Remove waste and bureaucracy from processes to increase your speed.

Establish clear communication channels up and down the company. Communication is crucial to keep the workforce engaged.

Define the vision and stick to it. People want to know where they are going.

Get your priorities in check. If not, you run the risk of developing the wrong culture.

Invest in processes early on. Things are much more manageable when everything is clear and broken down into small steps.

Clearly define people’s responsibilities. Otherwise, we run the risk of many people working on the same task or nobody at all.

Leverage technology to accomplish more, and always try to simplify tasks.

Develop and train your workforce. If you care for your employees, they will care for you.

A quality management system could work wonders for your company, regardless of your size.

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