Ten Reasons Why At Times The Quality Management System Does Not Work
By Mrs. Susan Lubega, ISO 9000 Lead Auditor
Quality Assurance and Management Consultants
ISO 9001 is a standard which provides guidance on the issues to be addressed in
developing a quality management system within an organization. From their
inception in 1987, the ISO 9000 series have become popular both internationally
and locally for organizations looking to improve internal operations to fully satisfy
customer demands and bring efficiency.
Today being certified to ISO 9001 has become a symbol of prestige and a
representation of best practices, be it in the service or manufacturing industry.
However, in spite of the series’ popularity today, there are schools of thought that
believe that the series have been highly overrated and that they don’t bring the
benefits raved about ie: increase in sales and market share, efficiency and
effectiveness in production, improved products to mention but a few. This article
attempts to examine the various reasons as to why this may be the case.
Quality Management Systems, in some organizations have been a complete success
whereas in others they have been a complete failure. Below are some reasons for
the failure of quality management systems.
1. Lack of Strategic Fit
The term ‘strategic fit’ at its simplest level refers to the ability of new ideas, tactics,
activities, etc to fit in with the overall strategic goals of the organization. ISO 9001
promotes meeting customer requirements at all levels of the organization,
therefore, it would not go down very well with an organization that has survived for
a long time by copying what the competitors are doing or by providing their
perception of what the customers require.
The former would be closely monitoring their competitors and reacting to what they
are doing whereas the latter company would be inward looking in the sense that
they would be reacting to the perceived customer demands derived from feedback
of sales people who are usually in contact with the distributors and not the end
users of the product and the personal experiences of the company personnel.
To illustrate the importance of ‘strategic fit’ let us look closely at what goes within
each of these companies
A B C
Benchmarking As A
Strategic Level Closely following
Devising plans for out
doing the competition
Designing products and
services that are better
than the competitions’.
Putting in place systems to
ensure that these products
are produced consistently.
Company relying on
feedback from sales
personnel and other
Acting on the
Designing products and
services that meet the
criteria as laid out by
Putting in place
systems to ensure that
these products are
ISO 9001 Certified
Doing customer surveys;
Understanding what the
developing products and
services that the
Putting in place systems
to ensure that these
products are consistently
Testing the products on
Improving the products
as recommended by the
Marketing and selling the
Whereas there is a similarity in the activities undertaken by each of these
companies, the objectives are quite different. Therefore implementing the quality
management system in either company A or B would be difficult for the simple
reason that the skills that would have been developed and perfected in these
companies ie: spying on competitors or getting feedback from internal personnel
would have no place in the quality management system.
Therefore in the absence of clear guidance on how to operate differently, staff
would continue doing what they are used to and generally conclude that the quality
management system is a management whim that can run concurrently with their
tried and proven tactics.
To address this problem, companies have to ensure that the implementation of a
quality management system is in alignment with their overall business strategy.
This would require a formal review of the strategy by management and ensuring
alignment of the two. Thereafter, there would be need to ensure that the systems,
personnel and structures support the strategy
2. Organisational Structures Which Do Not Support The Changes Brought
In By The QMS
Those who may have implemented a quality management system would attest to
the fact that:
– they usually unveil responsibilities that may not have been delegated and;
– bring additional tasks.
Under the circumstances the best way of handling this situation would be to reorganise
the new tasks
clearly defined and assigned. However, this is not the approach
that is commonly taken. Companies usually choose to retain the existent structure
and lump the additional tasks to any willing but unsuspecting victim without looking
at the remuneration factor.
With time this causes disgruntlement and the work not to be done at all. In other
cases the work is shoddily done. Also, when this approach is taken, no attention is
paid to the sequential work flow which eventually compromises the effectiveness of
3. Lack of Participation of Personnel
In Uganda, most quality management systems were created by one or two people
who had the technical knowledge on the subject with some input from
management. As a result other members of staff who are usually responsible for
the implementation feel that the system is owned by the people who created it.
It is usually referred to as ‘so and so’s’ system because these staff members don’t
clearly see where they fit in and therefore fail to positively contribute to the
betterment of the system. They just follow it.
For a system to be successful it is important that stakeholder (managers,
supervisors, line production staff) buy in is got right from the start. This can be got
a) Communicating to all staff members what is going to be done in this case
implementing a quality management system; why it is to be implemented ; and the
likely benefits to be accrued. This communication should preferably come from top
b) Defining the changes to be introduced by the system and the impact that these
changes would have on the way people work.
c) The contributions to success that would be required at each level.
d) Clear statement of how everybody will know if the project is successful.
4. Empowerment of Personnel
The skills existent in the organization are at times not good enough to support the
quality management system. To implement a quality management system skills are
required in planning, managing and controlling operations, monitoring and
evaluating the effectiveness of operations and taking the necessary corrective
actions. In the absence of these skills the system can only be partly functional.
The best way of addressing this problem is to initially undertake a skills audit which
would help to identify the existent skills and those that are lacking. Thereafter, a
plan can be developed on how the skills gaps can be bridged ie: how personnel can
be empowered. Likely interventions may include but certainly would not be limited
to training, coaching, mentoring to mention but a few.
Absence of communication on the progress of the quality management system, key
successes, implementation challenges and lessons learned can be compared to
moving in a rudderless boat. At any one time this boat may be hit by waves (which
usually come in the form of pessimism) which may take the boat completely off
Early successes when communicated early serve to keep the boat on course and
give momentum. Challenges openly communicated with practical solutions serve to
motivate others in similar situations and the lessons learned serve to warn others
on how to circumnavigate problems.
Communication channels that can be established for the above purposes include:
in-house help lines, on line help, newsletters, formal review meetings, internal
memos and notice board communication.
The kind of leadership required in this case is the one that encourages participation
from all the implementers NOT the authoritative kind of leadership. The latter is the
most common but it usually kills personal initiative and positive contribution to the
success of the system.
As far as the quality management system is concerned, leaders must be able to
define the quality policy, set objectives at the functional level which are aligned to
the quality policy, clearly define and assign roles and responsibilities, avail and
control the resources necessary for implementation, train and develop personnel
and generally continually monitor progress and initiate improvements where
In a nut shell the leaders determine the course to be taken by the company and
provide the support necessary for the implementers to tread on that course.
7. Monitoring and Evaluation
The products of monitoring and evaluation are basically objective evidence that the
quality management system is implemented and is effective. If this is absent then
people tend to forget why it was crucial to implement the system in the first place.
Monitoring and evaluation promotes continual improvement of the system as it
provides a formal forum for review of progress which in turn reveals areas of
weakness and provides opportunities for the management body to devise remedial
In order to ensure that monitoring and evaluation happens it is imperative
– At the very beginning the ‘current situation’ within the organization is clearly
defined and documented;
– The changes to be ushered in by the quality management system be clearly
defined and documented together with the objectives;
– When this is done, the next step would be to clearly define how everybody will be
able to tell that the change has been successfully implemented.
This would entail defining metrics / performance indicators which may be
qualitative or quantitative in nature for example one of the requirements of ISO
9001 is monitoring the level of customer satisfaction which can only be got from the
feedback from customers.
Therefore, a feedback tool would have to be designed and put in place and
thereafter, the level of customer satisfaction assessed by evaluating the responses
on the feedback tool.
Below are other examples of qualitative and quantitative parameters that can be
used for measuring the performance of processes / functions in a quality
Delivery of products to customers Number of on-time deliveries
Efficiency of the distribution network Ratio of each distribution outlet to number
of areas served
Production Efficiency Change over time
Percentage of production time spent on
Percentage of defective products
Customer satisfaction Number of repeat sales
Speed of response to customer enquiries;
Percentage of customer requirements that
were not met
8. Adequate Resources
It is a common fallacy that the actual cost of a quality management system
comprises only the consultancy fees and the audit fees. In actual sense there are
quite a number of expenses associated with quality management systems. They
come in terms of:
– Improvements in infrastructure, equipment and support facilities;
– Audit fees payable annually;
– Consultancy fees;
– Printing of stationery;
– Training of personnel;
– QMS maintenance costs;
– Facilitation of the implementation process to mention but a few.
Therefore in cases where the company does not have adequate resources to meet
these various expenses the implementation of the quality management system can
come to a stand still or worse still implementation may still go ahead but some
activities may be left out. Sometimes these activities are crucial to the success of
the whole project. Consequently the system is partially functional.
To avoid this happening, it is important that a plan for implementing the system be
laid out and all the activities in the plan be costed. When there is a budget assigned
to the various activities then it is easy to assess whether there are enough
resources to undertake the project and to maintain the system in the future.
9. Conflicts with the Existing Culture within the Organisation
Culture is primarily the result of ‘management behaviour’ and the perceived values
that underlie that behaviour. ISO 9001 systems encourage a culture of planning,
doing, checking and acting. Therefore in organizations where fire-fighting is
rampant there is never time to plan because management is often taken with
solving one crisis after another.
Thus the problem solving skills in the organisation would be highly developed,
however, planning which is a problem preventing skill would be incompatible with
the culture of an organization such as this.
In order to change the status quo, management would have to start not only
emphasing planning as the key to success in all operations but also walking the talk
by organizing planning sessions, documenting, implementing and formally
Other organizational cultural issues which may cause contention include:
– authoritative leadership versus participative leadership;
– no investment in personnel because of the fear of people leaving and taking with
them the knowledge and skills acquired versus development and empowerment of
– one person doing everything because of lack of trust versus delegating
responsibility, establishing the necessary controls and monitoring;
– finding somebody to blame for things that go wrong versus working together to esolve
punishing for mistakes made versus encouraging learning from mistakes;
– please the boss versus please the customer;
– Individual versus the team.
10. Reluctance to commit to change at Management Level
For any change to be successful, it must have the support of top management.
There is the tendency of management to pretend that they support the change only
to turn round and mention to subordinates their pessimism towards the proposed
changes. This usually starts a tirade of rumours and works to build strong
resistance to the change at the lower levels.
It kills the momentum. It can only be compared to a heavy storm putting out a fire
that had potential of gaining strength. Other examples include stating that the
project has management support and then turning round and saying there are no
resources to meet the expenses required or management stating that they will
focus on customer satisfaction but not changing the reward system to ensure that
those providing good customer service are adequately rewarded for it. All these are
examples of a management that is not willing to walk the talk
Therefore for a quality management system to be successful, management has to
be consistent both in word and deed.
Alan Weiss, 1990. Best Laid Plans: Turning Strategy into Action throughout
the Organisation. United States of America: Las Brisas Research Press.