CQI Competency Framework: Assurance
By Simon Feary, CEO of the Chartered Quality Institute
As mentioned in last month’s blog on the CQI Competency Framework, governance may provide the foundation stone for organisation effectiveness, but having clarity of purpose, captured in the organisation’s policies and processes, is meaningless if these same policies and processes are ignored.
Understanding whether established policies and processes are producing the desired outcomes, enables the organisation to challenge existing practices and identify opportunities for improvement. These improvements may be essential if they are required to address failures in meeting stakeholder expectations or perhaps to secure opportunities to exceed stakeholder expectations by eliminating unnecessary waste and improving operational effectiveness.
This is where assurance activities play a key role. They are the means to determine whether stakeholder’s requirements are being met (product assurance) and if the organisation is operating in the way that was intended (process assurance). It is an independent evaluation of:
‘How things are being done’ – with respect to what was intended (process assurance)
'What is being produced’ – with respect to stated and unstated requirements (product assurance).
It is important to add that ‘outputs’ encompass both internal and external deliverables.
Responding to stakeholder needs
To be paid by the organisation but working in support of the supplier, customer and local community, may seem to be a paradox. In fact, the two perspectives are completely aligned since we know that, ultimately, the interests of the organisation are served only if reputation is protected and enhanced. This can only be achieved by understanding and responding to all stakeholders’ needs.
In this respect the quality profession is the collective conscience of the organisation, certainly never a police force, and as we all know, a ‘body’ with a conscience is a pretty dangerous thing and, as we also know, it’s sometimes extremely tempting to ignore what your ‘conscience’ is telling you!
Quality professionals are usually directly tasked with process assurance activities and work on behalf of both the organisation and external stakeholders to determine how work is undertaken with respect to the defined policies and processes.
Undertaking product assurance can be carried out in a number of different ways. Indeed, the CQI originated to recognise the particular skills of testing and inspection and certainly these activities continue to play an important part in understanding whether the outcomes that are likely to satisfy stakeholder requirements.
However, assuring that the outcomes of an organisation’s activity are consistent with all stakeholder requirements is a very complex task and requires quality professionals to evaluate performance not only from the customers’ point of view, but also from the perspective of the societies, the shareholders and trustees, the suppliers and the employees.
Test & inspection and non-conformance management
Undertaking product assurance effectively may require the quality professional to act directly through test and inspection and non-conformance management, but sometimes will simply require an assessment to determine whether the organisation has the capability and commitment to successfully establish stakeholders’ needs and implement effective methodologies to determine compliance or otherwise.
Very often this is achieved by implementing a culture of independent peer review at the product or service delivery level. And by developing and utilising a suite of key performance indicators and critical success factors for the organisation to review and act on.
If management intent is not properly implemented it is immediately and self-evident that there is a lack of leadership within the organisation and considerable risk that these ad hoc ways of working will not produce the desired outcomes. Since there is no baseline for how work is being undertaken, there is very little opportunity to evaluate effectiveness of the implemented approaches and consequently no basis for improvement.
The alternative to organisations improving their approach to governance and assurance and their ability to self-regulate in these ways is very plain to see. There will be an ever-increasing recourse to regulation, new regulatory bodies being formed and more and more red tape and legislation.
Top management and quality professionals themselves have to take a pro-active role in ensuring their quality teams have the right competencies to ensure organisations are able to operate efficiently and effectively, while meeting the needs of all their stakeholders.
All companies with a certified ISO 9001 quality management system will be able to deliver against the three points below as general requirements for compliance.
Determine the processes needed for the quality management system and their application throughout the organisation
Determine the sequence and interaction of these processes
Determine criteria and methods needed to ensure that both the operation and control of these processes are effective.
To find out how the CQI Competency Framework can support your quality staff visit the CQI.org/Competency-Framework.