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How to use quality control tools to improve your QMS

One of the key benefits of any Quality Management System (QMS), especially one that has been created according to the requirements of ISO 9001:2015, is to bring a focus on continual improvement within the organization. Continual improvement is one of the quality management principles that forms the foundation of the ISO 9001:2015 standard; however, the requirements of the standard are non-prescriptive and only tell you what your QMS must include, but not how to implement the requirements. So, the question comes up:  How can quality tools help with improvement in your QMS? Here are some ideas to consider.

Essential quality control tools: What are they?

If you are going to find ways to improve your QMS processes, you must first have data to understand how those processes are performing. Analyzing this data will, first of all, present you with areas that can be improved, and secondly, ongoing data collection will show you that improvement has actually happened after you take the necessary actions. The American Society of Quality (ASQ) recognizes seven essential quality control tools, and these are ideal for presenting data in an understandable way so that it can be analyzed for improvement. These tools are:

  1. Data tables – Data tables are a way to collect data in a tabulated format so that it can more easily be reviewed for trends. If you are tabulating defect type per supplier, it easily becomes visible which suppliers have which defects so that you can then work on improvement.
  2. Pareto analysis – The Pareto diagram will take the data for many types of information, often different problems or defects, and present them in a graphical representation from highest frequency to lowest. This easily shows which problems occur most frequently, and you can quite simply tell which few defects comprise 80% of your problems.
  3. Scatter diagrams – When using a scatter diagram, you compare two factors, such as defect quantity and time of day, to see if there is a correlation. In this example, if you have an increased number of defects at 1PM, right after lunch break, you can then further investigate the cause of this and fix it.
  4. Trend analysis – Trend charts, also known as graphs or run charts, allow you to graphically plot data associated with a process over time against specification limits. These charts give the raw data to establish if there is evidence that a process might need investigation for improvement.
  5. Histograms – Histograms plot the frequency of occurrence within data, converting a collection of data points into a distribution curve. Analyzing this curve can tell you if your process is functioning normally or not. If it is abnormal, then improvements might be needed.
  6. Control charts – Control charts are an ongoing plotting of data for a process, and can indicate when the process outputs start to shift away from the expected measurements, and then allow for correction. They also will easily show if improvement activities have been effective, as there will be a sustained shift in the data after improvement work is done.
  7. Cause and effect analysis – The cause and effect analysis, also called a fishbone diagram, is used mainly to investigate the cause of a problem or potential problem. With the problem in mind, you think through every possible cause on the six headings of machine, method, material, measurement, men/women, and environment. After tabulating all possible causes, you can then start to eliminate them until you come to the most likely cause, which can be corrected.

Essential supplementary quality control tools

In addition to the seven tools above, the ASQ also recognizes other supplemental QC tools, some of which are also useful in managing continual improvement activities within the QMS. The two that are the most useful for improvement activities are as follows:

  • Process flowcharts and maps – When trying to understand a process in an effort to improve it, you will find it useful to map out how that process works in a flowchart. This will give you a step-by-step indication of what happens in the process, and by doing so, it can highlight where resources are wasted due to unnecessary steps. When the process flow is mapped out on the floor, it can even show where there is a waste due to excessive movement around the factory.
  • Process improvement center – The process improvement center is a display board that incorporates many pieces of information to help employees and management understand the process. Some items commonly included are control charts, process flow charts, event logs, fishbone diagrams, and Pareto analysis. This gives everyone interested in the process one stop to see the current status of the process, and to be able to assess if there is an opportunity for improvement of the process, and if improvement activities are working as planned.

Are there other quality tools available?

In fact, there are many more tools that can be used within the process improvement activities of a company, and some have been talked about in previous blogs. For more information, see: ISO 9001 vs. Lean: How they compare and how they are different, and ISO 9001 vs. Six Sigma: How they compare and how they are different. These other, more complex tools that are within the function of quality management can be very helpful if you want to find the biggest benefit from your continual improvement activities, but many come with a cost.

However, it is important to remember that the application of quality tools to your continual improvement initiatives is completely up to you. No one can say, “You need to use Six Sigma to improve.” How you will ensure continual improvement within your organization is up to you to decide, and you have the choice to use quality tools within your improvement activities for the purpose that each serves. While many quality management tools can be useful on your path toward improvement of the QMS, it is your decision when and how you will use them. Find what is right for you to get the benefits you want from your QMS.

To see where quality tools could be best applied within your organization, take this free online training  ISO 9001:2015 Foundations Course, which will teach you the basics of the standard.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.