This reflection paper summarizes some of the highlights of the course, incorporating the main ideas of course topics relating to quality assurance amassed in the learning process. It includes how the understanding of quality assurance was at the beginning of the course, how it developed following encounter with classroom materials and eventually some practical examples of application. It includes a very important facet of quality assurance – change management and the extent to which it sustains the quality assurance process. Changes are unsettling in any organization, yet inevitable. Thereby, when they occur, they require proper management lest they derail an entire strategy and possible progress. As it emerges in this reflection, the same principles apply in quality assurance and in a more profound way. The reflection reveals a broad nexus between change management and quality assurance. The reflection shall weight on the subject and many others in two sections below.
Part A: How Understanding of Quality Assurance has changed
The main output of the course was connecting change management to quality assurance. I had some knowledge in the two topics independently but did not understand how they intersected. I was aware of ISO certifications having encountered them at work and even in some institutions of higher learning and consequently believed that the primary goal for QA was to gain certification. With the certification, I thought that the organization would gain some form of status that boosted their brand and standing amongst their competition. While this is true to some extent, it fails to capture the real objectives of quality assurance and their entire scope in business organizations. It also fails to understand how the QA process was related to change management which was a huge part of it. It emerged that quality assurance is largely related to change management, more than I had thought before.
The course exposed me to the essence of change management in quality assurance. Previously, I encountered change as a topic that relates to growth and enhancing organizational effectiveness or that comes naturally under the trigger of forces beyond a firm. However, change management in quality assurance had quite a different dimension. It is in itself a core of the quality assurance process. Managing changes in the process of developing a product or delivering it to the customer is a facet of quality assurance that ensures consistency of outcomes and timely diagnosis of problems. For instance, if the quality assurance process determines defects in a certain product, the changes that follow to correct such defects should be documented and explained in detail. This will ensure that there is harmony in a production line or service output. Recording the nature of the changes made, where they were made and by who are critical change management actions that in the end ensure quality is maintained. Errors can be traced to their point of origin, their solutions are understood and their impacts on the whole process anticipated. It is through such change management practices that different qualities of products are established. For instance, the best quality can be that which did not have any defects while other qualities may entail defective or products with mitigated defects. Therefore, the course anchored the understanding of managing change in quality assurance and its impacts.
Seeking improvement is important in QA and in a way requires change management. The fact that quality assurance seeks to create consistency did not imply that the same level of quality would be maintained throughout. I learnt that quality assurance creates a “culture of quality” which makes it normative for employees and other stakeholders to always uphold certain standards in their service provision. This may translate into improvement of outputs, increased efficiency and less investment on quality assurance processes and systems. With tools like Total Quality Management (TQM), organizations are able to embed quality into their corporate culture and therefore uphold high standards at all levels, improving organizational outcomes in the process. More profoundly, some quality assurance systems call for continuous improvement as part of their structure. They not only require consistency in quality of products and services but also require that any avenues of improvement are always sought. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but visualize improvement as a change process that requires change management. Moving from one quality to another requires the principles of change management such as documentation, systematic alterations and stakeholder involvement.
At the end of the course, my understanding of quality management standards was significant. Attaining ISO certification in the present day is of utmost importance not only for the sake of the credibility of the organization but increasingly as a legal and contractual requirement. I learnt that there are customers who only transact with ISO certified firms while many shareholders would also be ecstatic about their organizations pursuing and attaining ISO certification. It is the best statement that a company can make to its important stakeholders on their commitment to upholding a given standard of service or product delivery. Of significance is the various pillars that make the ISO 9000 group of standards such as evidence based decision making. This also bordered on change management, given that these standards are often implemented as change processes. There are overhauls of systems, change in supplier code and new human resource models involved in implementing ISO systems. This may mean failure if no proper change management is carried out.
Section B: Lessons on Specific topics and Examples of Application
One of the most interesting aspects of quality assurance that were learned is the role of leadership. It is evident that without leadership support, no quality assurance initiative is able to succeed. The leadership provides resources both tangible and intangible for training, equipping and the general roll out of any quality assurance initiative. For a successful initiative, leadership must also lead by example rather than dictate issues from the sidelines. This is especially important when initiatives like TQM are put in place or various ISO certifications are sought. The employees may find it to be a painful and anxious change to put up with when they transit from their old systems and adhere to new conditions, for instance in readiness for audit. Leaders should be the first to embrace new technologies, update their records and embrace lean systems so as to steer the organization in the desired direction. An equally essential aspect of leadership is to ensure effective and honest communication with the team, which can be achieved in various ways. First, the management must initiate two-way communication where they are able to collect feedback from the employees. Secondly, communication was the heart of change management. It was not only important for changes to be recorded, but rather have them communicated clearly. This ensures that the quality of any product or service is understood evenly across the production line.
The essence of the workforce in the implementation of any quality assurance initiative also emerged strongly. While most organizations focus on the quality initiatives themselves, they forget that without the input of the people and equipping such groups appropriately there can be no meaningful success. This means that an organization may fail to attain any of the ISO 9000 family of standards simply because of lack of people integration. The standards in themselves do not mean anything without people involvement and basically, the people act as a mediator between business needs and outcomes. This is why implementation of ISO 10018:2012 within the context of any quality management standards is necessary. It is a standard within a standard, with normative applications in the implementation of any ISO 9000 standards. They also have applications in non-quality assurance scenarios, but the gist of it is that they are needed to ensure that people are sufficiently involved in organizational change processes especially those relating to improvement. As proper application, all organizations must ensure that they train, equip and motivate their workforce if they are to actualize any strategy whether related to quality assurance or not. This is because a key component of people involvement is competence, without which they are unable to play leading roles in the improvement or change processes.
Quality assurance has got to do with setting clear objectives and milestones. This is carried out by the leadership of the entire organization or the quality assurance team. Setting objectives can be a difficult task for leadership as they are likely to be unrealistic or in some cases way to low. However, there are quite a number of frameworks that can be applied appropriately in practice to address such a problem. For instance, an organization can set up SMART objectives and employ them successfully in their QA framework. The deviation from set standards should set in the aforementioned practice of change management. This implies noting the changes that are made in order to meet the desired objectives and their impact to the overall process. It was important to note that change management in this case does not apply only for the purposes of sustaining quality but the overarching desire to meet customer expectations. Changes in quality can imply failing to meet customer expectations which explains why changes must be managed. Given that quality assurance is largely about maintaining standards, it can then be interpreted as managing any changes related to set standards.
In retrospect, I can confidently state that the whole course was worthwhile. It has instilled in me a good understanding of various facets of quality assurance from leadership, ISO standards, setting organizational standards and the role of change management. The latter was the most important lesson, as change can be destructive in the context of quality assurance. I imagined an organization splitting a project into many different parts and assigning them to separate departments. In the end, everyone’s work will be brought together and fused into the complete project. If anyone made a change and failed to communicate it to the rest, there would be significant deviation that may void the whole project. Therefore, in ensuring quality, it was apparent that changes must be noted and well disseminated.
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