What to do When Your QM Leaves

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More and more companies realize that their QMS revolves around one person; their Quality Manager. One day, that quality Manager will leave, so how can you set up the system to survive losing a huge key factor in your system. That's what we're going to discuss.

I've had the great joy of seeing numerous unique companies. Some are glowing examples of a superior system that the ISO gods themselves would be jealous of, and others, well, not as much. I want to tell two specific stories to help show the different aspects of how you can prepare for this inevitable situation. (these are true stories with a little bit of creative spin added in)  

The Alpha Company had been certified for 7 or 8 years to ISO 9001 and had a documented system that explained what they did and how they did it. It wasn't perfect, but it did adhere. The Quality Manager pushed them to be better. They went for a more rigid standard to better provide products to their higher-tiered customers; it involved great goals and ambitions. They had a good grasp of what they make, and they provide a somewhat unique service that not many other companies can provide, so they were in a nice little niche. They ended up choosing to go with an AS9100 certified QMS and then delivered parts to defense companies, airplane manufacturers, and medical companies. From an outsider's perspective, things were progressing well, and the system was fully capable of handling these parts. The Quality Manager passed the audits, the systems worked, and the customers were mostly happy, UNTIL….

The Beta Company was certified to ISO 9001:2015 and had been for only a few years. This company seemed to struggle with audits because there would be different individuals for each area. They had a process owner that oversaw each of these, so they struggled to understand the concept of fully integrating the ISO Standard. Their early audits always showed a lot of areas that needed to be improved and always seemed to have numerous findings. This company didn't look glamorous or striking from the outside, but something similar happened.

They both lost their Quality Managers. 

This loss can be a super detrimental situation for any company. We all certainly want our employees to stay, but what happens when this time inevitably comes? Better yet, how do we prepare for this and set the company up to succeed after this happens?

The primary thing that the Alpha company has is cohesion between its processes. There was one central point of contact for all procedures; the big question is how operations survive if that person leaves. The Beta company has done a great job incorporating multiple process owners throughout their system. However, this system could potentially have different flavors from each process owner and could make it a little bit "clunky." What can we do to help adjust these systems into a good solid QMS that will survive through different levels of turmoil? 

Many companies seem to fear spreading the "ISO" love around to different people. Involving multiple people into running audits or complete process systems, WITHOUT the help of the Quality Manager, should be the goal. However, the Alpha Company wanted to keep it as controlled as possible, which tends to be a good path. However, their controls depended on one person to run the system. They had this same fear, so their Quality Manager drove the entire system. But, this is where it went wrong. When the Quality Manager would prompt different leaders in the company to help understand the system, there was minimal feedback. Even more, the feedback did not helpfully explain HOW the system operated. Their procedures lacked depth and a complete understanding of the Alpha companies' processes. Can you relate to this type of system? Is yours built similar? 

Ok, now let's discuss Beta companies' systems. They had good involvement when their processes were being written into procedures, from the entry-level team members all the way up to the CEO. When Audit time came, most systems had at least two different people that could be audited for that process. This seems like a solid system, but how well do you think the system works in total, considering so many different people were involved? Can your system operate cohesively when that many people are involved?

So which tends to be the better system?

If you answered either option, you are correct because there are benefits to both types of systems. It seems relatively obvious to me to answer the main question on which approach works after the Quality Manager leaves. However, my opinion doesn't matter. Let's look at it through the eyes of ISO 9001, and its transformation back in 2008 when it was revised, and what all changed.

The ISO 9001:2015 update was referred to as a "Silo Buster" meaning it broke down the silos from the previous revisions of the standard. The 2015 version shows you that EVERYONE needs to have a hand in the QMS; everyone has the responsibility to ensure it will operate effectively. Let's take it one step further when you consider the phrase "Process-Based System." It tells you a lot about what the system should look like and that the processes should be the driving factor. HOW do you do the different things needed to ensure your outcomes, whether that's products or services. How can you best make that widget? Well, the processes around it should walk you very simply through what all is required. The procedures don't have to be overly complex; they need to describe the process. When you combine the fact that everyone has a hand in the QMS with a process-based approach, you are left with what ISO intended: a good solid Business System. Looking at it this way will help you understand why over a million companies go for the ISO registration (staggering fact, right?!). 

Let's discuss the outcomes of the Alpha Company and Beta Company after the Quality Manager left. The first audit after the Alpha company's Quality Manager left resulted in over 30 findings from their Internal Audit, and where were heavily considering dropping their QMS altogether. Their certificate was well on the path to being suspended, and the customers were not all too pleased. The Quality Manager had developed everything the best possible way, without getting sufficient input from all areas on how to write the procedures. This resulted in no one else having a good grasp of their QMS. It was only the Quality Manager. This worked for the old ISO requirements, but that all changed, as discussed earlier. 

The Beta company had struggles when their Quality Manager left, that's going to happen regardless of how they set up the system, but with this company, each area could continue operating. When the Internal Auditors were there, they got the full story of what happened with the Quality Manager leaving and knew it would be a challenging audit. Still, there were at least enough people to get through it. Their primary goal was to ensure that their widgets were still being produced correctly. The secondary objective was to get through the audits and maintain their certificate. The system survived this blow because it reduced its weight from one person to multiple people, all working together towards success. 

Ok, here are a couple of things to think about:

  • If your Quality Manager quit (or if YOU quit), would the QMS survive? 
  • How would your next audit go if your Company Representative wasn't available (even if that's you)?
  • How many people feel comfortable describing the entire system, interactions and understand WHY things are written how they are?

This thought process will hopefully open options on how you can adjust and focus on the inclusion of all team members into your QMS versus deliberately excluding them from leaving it to one "Expert." Hopefully, you have a more Company Alpha type QMS. In that case, you can see that adding in others will help protect you from this dreaded situation and create better inclusion throughout the company and a higher functioning system. NO system is completely stagnant IF one person wants to encourage change. You can rewrite, refocus, and update your system to be stronger and more inclusive. I think there may even be something in the ISO 9001 standard that talks about improvement! 

If your system is more like the Beta companies' system, consider getting one person to be the primary Company representative. Understanding that multiple other people can jump in if needed. Create various backups and get rid of "Tribal Knowledge" from each area. This will show you how a solid system can operate and how you can keep the skeletons out of the closet. 

I think in the end, we can see that the Beta company ended up being more of an Alpha than the Alpha company had been! (insert laugh track here)

Cavendish Scott has been helping organizations implement and optimize their QMS solutions for 30+ years. We help you start from scratch, but we also bring expertise to existing solutions and situations to streamline, improve and support customers and their certification. We guarantee we can assure maintaining or achieving certification. We can solve any certification problem and help put things in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.

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