Quality: managers’ responsibility

QUALITY is often associated with inspection and testing, which together are commonly known as quality control. 

For many, quality control is considered solely the realm of technical people and requires expertise in the natural or applied natural sciences. 

This kind of belief results from the fact that the concept of quality was popularised by the product manufacturing sector.

Once we move to services sector, however, we realise that natural sciences rarely feature therein.

Natural sciences are not always a necessary prerequisite for existence of quality, for we still talk of quality in services.

We will recall that quality is defined as the degree to which requirements and expectations of customers are met.

Such definition applies in all sectors and in businesses of all sizes.

Also, every organisation exists for a defined purpose.

It will generally be to provide some service or product to a specified target group, or a chosen market, in the case of a business. 

If quality means meeting the requirements of chosen market, therefore, it relates directly to “the reason for being” of an organisation and cannot be left to technicians alone. 

It has to be the responsibility of top management.

It is well understood that top management has to engage other staff to carry out certain activities on their behalf. 

This is simply because no person has the physical ability to be everywhere and to do all required activities at the same time. 

Secondly, managers need to supplement their own knowledge.

It follows, then, that all work within an organisation is the responsibility of top management.

Others are just there to support, through delegated responsibility.

What is important is that such delegation should be responsible so that it does not become abdication — negligence of duty.

Like all other functions, quality remains the responsibility of top leadership, but is delegated accordingly. 

It is, after all, top management that determines which market to service and the level it will be serviced.

Another good reason why quality remains the responsibility of leadership is the current approach to quality that emphasises on management of all processes within an organisation and a shift from dependence on inspection and testing.

Related processes are, then, considered as a system.

Nobody, other than top management has control over systems.

In fact, systems are the only way top managers are able to manage the affairs of the organisation since, as we said, they cannot be everywhere at the same time. 

A very important aspect of a good system is that it provides feedback to management.

It acts as a basis for ‘a learning organisation’. 

This is directly related to the concept of continual improvement, earlier mentioned.

The usefulness of management systems is probably one of the reasons why standards for management systems have become popular lately. 

One consistent feature of management system standards is the insistence that top management shall spell out their quality policies as part of their systems.

The same standards stipulate that top management shall regularly review the quality activities of their organisations.

Problems that occur during work are either due to individuals or to the system applied.

Elsewhere it has been said that problems that emanate from the system account for up to 98 percent of all problems. 

Since management is responsible for systems, it can control that high percentage of problems if they set up good systems.

Control is an important aspect of management and quality control remains an important component of quality management. 

But control is in different forms and at different levels.

Preliminary control looks at putting certain things in place, including systems, before actual activity starts, to increase the chances that we will get the right results. 

Concurrent control refers to measures in place as we continue to do work to help us determine if we are doing the right thing. 

Feedback control refers to action we take in response to results that do not meet expectations.

Preliminary and feedback control are better allocated to management, which means more responsibility for the leadership.  

The point that quality, like all work, depends on teamwork has been made before. 

We can also agree that management is responsible for setting up and maintenance of such work teams; firstly through recruiting the right team members and by appropriate placing of such members as well as by fostering growth and development of teams.

Besides building individuals into a team, management has to provide resources as necessary. 

Perhaps a comparison between quality and finance will be useful here. 

Top managers assume overall responsibility for the finances of an organisation.

But top leadership does not handle cash. 

Cash is handled by cashiers, bookkeepers and the like.

What top management does is to put into place systems that ensure control even over activities carried out by others. 

In the same way, top leadership should retain responsibility for quality.

In a sense bookkeeping is equivalent to quality control and financial management to quality management.

Also, finance involves much more than just handling cash. It involves all managerial aspects of planning, organisation and control, as well as leadership.

A similar picture emerges where quality is concerned.   

Just as finance is not left to bookkeepers alone, quality should not be left to quality technicians.

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