01 Apr 2020

Quality Management Systems – How critical is effective communication?

Almost everyone would like to receive a quality product or service. Quality Management Systems enable organizations to do just this but strangely enough do not guarantee it. Often the definition of quality varies; the needs of the customer and/or the product/service promised, get lost in translation. Communication plays a vital role in any relationship including in the business and customer relationship.

Quality Management Systems are essentially systems developed using a process-based Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) approach to systems. ISO 9001 and AS9100 are two internationally recognized standard that provide a framework for quality management systems. However, they are not the only two standards out there.

When problems occur in quality management systems it may occur due to one of the following reasons:

  • Information did not get to the person doing the job
  • Information was incomplete or out of date
  • Tasks were not assigned to an individual
  • Management was not made aware of the problem timely

The above is not an exhaustive list but the common thread in the bullets above is communication or should we say the lack of effective communication. In quality management systems based on ISO 9001 Clause 7.4 asks organization to determine the internal and external communications relevant to the quality management system. It further asks organization to essentially outline protocols for what, when, with whom, and how the communication will take place as well as who will do it. ISO 9001 as do other quality management system standards have dedicated an entire clause to communication given its importance.

The leadership too have to communicate their vision and strategic direction for the organization through the policy and objectives for the team. They further must ensure awareness of the system among team members. In crisis communication plays an even more important role. In maritime quality management systems based on the ISM code the code asks the Master, as the leader on the vessel, to deliver orders and instructions in a clear and simple manner.

In crisis not only lack of information but too much information may further deepen the crisis. Leaders have to weigh the benefits of sharing the information before doing so. For quality management systems however, the system essentially routes the information as needed with the controls being built into the system such that the information reaches those that need to know, and the system also ensures that the information is effectively delivered. Good systems built with business continuity plans and emergency preparedness plans in place ensure effective communication even through a crisis. Systems that appreciate the risk of ineffective communication will have controls built-in to error proof the system.