What is a Quality Management System?

According to Wikipedia a Quality Management System (QMS) can be expressed as the organizational structure, procedures, processes and resources needed to implement quality management. However, David Hoyle in his book Quality Management Essentials tells us that a QMS is not a random collection of procedures, tasks or documents. Quality Management Systems need to be designed so that they work together in a regular relationship as part of an interacting system. So we need to look at some Systems Thinking Principles. One of these principles is the idea that inter-relationships at a high level are often more critical than the detail of the component parts. This supports David Hoyle’s theory that a QMS is far more than a collection of work instructions and procedures. A good QMS far exceeds the sum of its individual parts.

Early systems emphasized predictable outcomes of an industrial product production line, using simple statistics and random sampling. By the 20th century, labour inputs were typically the most costly inputs in most industrialized societies, so focus shifted to team cooperation and dynamics, especially the early signalling of problems via a continuous improvement cycle. In the 21st century, Quality Management Systems have tended to converge with sustainability and transparency initiatives, as both investor and customer satisfaction and perceived quality is increasingly tied to these factors. Of all QMS regimes the ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 series are probably the most widely implemented worldwide – the ISO 19011 audit regime applies to both, and deals with quality and sustainability and their integration.

The recently published ISO 9004:2009 Guideline document talks about Managing for the sustained success of an organization – A quality management approach. Other QMS, e.g. Natural Step, focus on sustainability issues and assume that other quality problems will be reduced as result of the systematic thinking, transparency, documentation and diagnostic discipline that sustainability focus implies.

We must acknowledgement that feedback loops, time-delays, and non-linearities are driving factors in a system’s performance. We must focus on the relationships that tie the system components together, as opposed to focus on improving the components only. ISO 9001 has always referred to responsibilities, authorities and interrelationships. This interrelationship aspect of a QMS has often been misunderstood. We need to acknowledgement that no one of us can truly comprehend the entire system. We must rely on people in different parts of the system to improve our understanding.