Does Your Quality Assurance Team Have What It Needs to Succeed?
Your customers demand consistent quality. A high-functioning quality assurance program is the only way to meet this requirement – not only in terms of quality, but also to maintain productivity and outpace the competition.
Misunderstandings between executive management and QA are hurdles that can be overcome by understanding the unique challenges QA Managers face. Lack of budgetary and technological support, the ongoing stress of defending audits, insufficient time to complete necessary tasks, and simple ignorance of the importance of QA are huge obstacles that diminish the success of your company. Take a step back and consider whether your company’s attitude toward QA is helping or hurting you in the following areas.
1) Underfunding Quality is a Big Mistake
It’s difficult for managers to carve a big chunk of the budget out for QA if their work is only noticed when something goes wrong. The work that QA does is hard to quantify, yet the QA technician is often the most expensive employee in a facility. Becoming a successful business requires looking beyond reacting to problems towards proactive prevention. Even executives that understand this often fail to provide sufficient financial support to enable the QA department to be truly effective.
Investing in quality contributes to the long-term vision of your company, but QA is also the first step in essential, short-term needs like preventing product recalls and reducing insurance costs. Recalls cost food producers as much as $7 billion annually. According to a 2011 study by the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, 78% of companies procured insurance to manage their recall risk and help them recover losses, but receiving a sizeable insurance policy requires that a company demonstrate strict quality assurance and control programs. Essentially, buying more insurance to mitigate risks should be the second step in risk management. The first step should always be improving your quality assurance.
2) QA Managers Need Appropriate Funding and Time to Do Their Jobs Right
Labor resources can also be a problem since even a fully staffed QA department will lack sufficient time to provide comprehensive oversight if they are swamped with tedious paperwork or continuously reacting to emergencies. An average day for a QA technician is filled with completing reams of manual paperwork. They must check suppliers to find non-compliance issues, analyze safety and quality test results, monitor production workers, verify temperatures, ensure specification conformity, deal with inspectors and auditors, and compile the records needed to support audits, which can occur as frequently as once a month.
Quality Assurance is a detail-oriented, labor-intensive job. When QA is understaffed or overstretched, they spend their day putting out fires caused by mistakes that flow from insufficient oversight or improperly trained employees. When they need to investigate deviations, the outdated paper and spreadsheet-based systems used in most facilities result in QA reviewing data 24 hours old or older. These hardcopy-based systems make it impossible to catch problems in real-time. Constantly playing catch-up reflects poorly on QA in the eyes of management (especially when mistakes are not caught until products leave the facility) even when the root cause is fundamentally the failure to allocate sufficient budgetary resources to automation and IoT technologies.
QA that isn’t properly supported is stuck on the tactical level instead of moving the company forward on a strategic level, anticipating and preventing future problems before they occur. Ever-changing regulations require implementation of new procedures that a QA person cannot effectively integrate when their time is consumed elsewhere. Automation is necessary to free up human resources to do what they do best – improve, strategize, and excel.
3) Management Needs to Know the Value of Quality Assurance Staff
Executive management often overlooks QA staff. Sometimes QA is only noticed when they make a mistake, but quality isn’t the responsibility of only one department – it is the responsibility of every person working on the production line or in the building. Everyone needs to be focused on quality and to be properly trained.
It is useful to view QA in their crucial risk management role. Consumer trust and business success are results of effective quality management. QA technicians usually have degrees in food science and must keep up to date on necessary standards that might be demanded by your customers or inspectors. Executives that don’t allocate QA the resources they need to keep up with new standards or listen to their recommendations miss out on important opportunities, which could often lead to disastrous results for the company.
Management also needs to understand the scope of QA’s role. Quality Assurance is all about prevention, not identifying defects in completed products. By the time a QA person has reviewed the final data, the product is often already on its way to shelves, whether there’s a problem or not. A lack of budget and time means that many facilities combine QA and Quality Control into the same being. The technician can usually only focus on one or the other: preventing problems from arising or preventing non-conforming products from shipping. Expecting a technician to do both well without the aid of substantive technology is unreasonable.
Management needs to understand that QA is asked to do more with less as a company grows and regulations increase. Management needs to learn to appreciate QA when things go right.
Quality is First and Foremost
Christopher Foster, experienced Food Safety and Quality Coordinator for Ontario Pride Eggs, said, “From a consumer standpoint, quality is first and foremost.” If “quality is first and foremost” to your customers, then so should quality assurance be to managers. Companies committed to success will guarantee that QA is well supported through sufficient budget, time, and respect.
As regulations increase and technology becomes more necessary, management that values their QA department will meet consumers’ demand and be led to success. Where will your QA department lead you?