What is a Quality System?

According to the ASQ glossary online, a quality management system (QMS, alternatively referred to as simply a “quality system”) can be considered a mechanism for managing and continuously improving core processes to “achieve maximum customer satisfaction at the lowest overall cost to the organization”. A quality system applies and synthesizes philosophies, standards, methodologies and tools to achieve quality-related goals.

A quality system thus represents a specific implementation of quality philosophies/concepts, standards, methodologies and tools, for the purpose of achieving quality-related goals. Upon implementation, a quality system will be unique to an organization.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) prescribes a minimum standard for the elements of a QMS through the ISO 9001:2000 standard. The major components of an ISO-compliant QMS using these guidelines are: [1]

  • Identification and mapping of processes (administrative, organizational, operational)
  • Specific determination of the interrelatedness of processes (including identification and mapping of cross-cutting processes that span organizational boundaries)
  • Plan for operations and control of these processes, recognizing that the conditions and specifications for control of each of the processes may be different from one another,
  • Plan for dynamically allocating resources to accommodate the demands of the operations and control of these processes,
  • Application of systems thinking by identifying the system of systems that comprise the interdependent processes,
  • Identification of mechanisms to measure, monitor, analyze and continuously improve the processes in the context of the organization and its environment, and an
  • Action Plan for proactively deploying the QMS through the organization, which must include the development of
  • Records that track compliance to the QMS and changes that are made to the QMS itself.

The July 2003 issue of Quality Progress [2] discussed all of the following as “quality systems” – ISO 9000, Ford Motor Co.’s quality operating system, lean, Six Sigma, lean and Six Sigma combined, systems thinking, complexity theory, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria, combinations of methods and unique approaches. But the full article didn’t answer the question of “Where do I start?”

In response, Radziwill et al. [3] proposed a general approach to determine what quality systems should be used, if any, what methods to apply to which processes, and how to select appropriate quality tools (for example, advanced product quality planning, failure mode effects analysis or quality function deployment) for the questions that need to be answered as part of a quality system.

[1] Cianfrani, Tsiakals, & West (2001). ISO 9001: 2000 Implementation Guide. Milwaukee, WI: Quality Press. AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an AWESOME BOOK!!! Totally explains all the aspects of ISO 9001:2000 that a manager might need to know to understand how it all fits together, and it’s much lighter than my laptop.
[2] “Multiple Choice: What’s the Best Quality System?” Quality Progress, July 2003, pp. 25-45.
[3] Radziwill, N. M., Olson, D., Vollmar, A., Lippert, T., Mattis, T., Van Dewark, K. and J.W. Sinn. (2008). Starting from Scratch. Quality Progress, September, p. 40-47.

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