In this issue I want to share some thoughts about innovation and quality, why quality is important for successful innovation, when a quality system is needed and when it seems more of a burden than a help.
By definition innovation is the application of something new, either a new product or service or an existing product or service for a new market. Anyway, the customer is offered something that he or she is not familiar with and cannot judge at delivery if requirements are met. Consequently, the supplier has to ensure that deliveries are as promised, in other words effective quality management is of main importance for successful innovation.
The introduction of a new product or service is most often managed by an innovation team, tasked with bringing the new product or service to the market. Such team can be a project team inside a larger company or an independent startup. What matters is that the initiator of the new product or service is an integral part of the innovation team. He or she knows the product very well and will personally supervise that all activities meet the requirements as designed. And in case a problem arises he or she will be the first to help the customer and solve the problem. This personal approach ensures that the customer exactly gets what has been promised and a formal quality system cannot add much additional value.
As soon as the number of customers and deliveries start growing the situation becomes completely different. The number of people contributing to product realization increases and as initiator one can no longer inspect every single product. On top of this the contributors do not always have the complete oversight of the product or service and thus cannot always make a clear judgment of what is important and what not. As a result, imperfections or non-conformities can be discovered too late and end up with the customer. For this situation formal quality management systems have been designed and experience learns that this moment often comes sooner than anticipated.
In case there is no obligation to operate according to a formal quality system the question arises what is needed from the moment the personal approach for quality has to be superseded by a systemic approach. By nature, the answer to this question depends on the company, the product or service and the market that is being served. Nevertheless, there are some generic guidelines to be considered when implementing a more systemic approach on quality. A first guideline is to always keep the customer in mind; what does the customer expect and what does he or she receive? Simple and effective ways to get insight in customer experience are to ask customers for feedback or become a customer of your own: buy your own product or service product via your own sales channel and see what happens. A second guideline is to closely look at what makes your product or service unique and how performance can be measured. Based on that it is good practice to properly document how to realize the product or service so that also people less familiar with the completed offering know what to do and can achieve the results required. A third guideline is to make very clear agreements with suppliers and closely monitor their performance. Suppliers do not always have the complete picture of their contribution to the integral product or service and clear agreements and regular visits can help to ensure all requirements and expectations are met.
Summarizing, we have seen that especially for a new product or service there is a clear need to let quality management grow together with the product or service. Often a switch has to be made from a very personal approach to quality to more formal systemic approach. Especially when there is no obligation to set up a formal quality system it is important to timely prepare for the moment the personal approach to quality is no longer sufficient. From past experience a number of guidelines have been given that can be helpful for such switch to a systemic approach.