Applying Collaborative Quality Software to Fix your Supply Chain Crisis

Frances Donnelly Quality Management Leave a Comment

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In the third part of our series “Your Quality System and Supply Chain Disruption”, we concentrate on routines that the Quality department can use to reduce the stress levels associated with a crisis.

Why do we think that is important?

Problem solved!

Frankly, no organization can sustain continuous crisis level activity. For our own success and the health of our teams, it is important that we build structures around the crisis that de-escalate it and allow us to evolve to a more normal set of activities. We know once the adrenaline rush of running in crisis mode has passed, we are going to want to stabilize processes for long-term reliability.

Here are some initiatives you can implement no matter how your QMS is supported.

Enable Some Self-service

You don’t want members of your team who are trying to complete a task to be interrupted by the need to answer questions or run down a piece of data. Conversely you don’t want team members in other departments being held up or, worse yet, taking the wrong action because they can’t easily access the content about Quality that they need for accurately determining next steps.

To move from interruptive questions and answers to self-directed decision-making, you have to develop communication hubs that individuals can reliably access to obtain the information that they need. You may get some push-back when you spend time entering data into shared spreadsheets or other tools, so you will need to remind staff that time spent in data entry means less time spent answering questions others can answer for themselves. This trade-off is meaningful but sometimes has to be pointed out. Behaviorally, the very act of being able to access an inquiry form to answer a question or confirm a status will begin to decrease the sense that everything is in crisis.

Quality departments that are heavily paper-based or that don’t have electronic systems with built-in tools may find this suggestion more challenging. Just remember - you don’t have to start by sharing everything; ask your team for feedback on the actions and questions that most frequently interrupt their routines and focus on the top four or five.

In your roll-out, be sure to consider how you will train other departments on where to find the data and how to understand it. Finally, you will need to enforce the use of these tools, so be prepared to be relentless in expecting all staff to go there first.

Introducing Automated Communication Tools to Mitigate Supply Chain Crisis

If you look for automation in your tools as a way to surface relevant data easily, you should be able to achieve two things. First, decision-making should be less time-consuming because all the tasks of manual researching should be reduced, if not eliminated. Second, you should be required to make fewer decisions because the events that need your attention will come to you.

It is true that there never seems to be enough time to upgrade tools and generate automation - and that was before we had a crisis. The old adage that it is easier to just do the task rather than take the time to train someone else or set things up for repetitive processing has traditionally kept us mired in transaction overload. In spite of this perceived time waste, see if you can find ways with the tools at-hand to automate repetitive functions and then use emails or other alerts so that you don’t have to do constant watching. Let your systems tell you when your attention is needed and then enable them to provide you with the data required to make decisions.

Consider skip lots as an example. You are using it to lessen the workload, but if you have to spend a bunch of time digging through paper records to make the determination that lot inspection is or is not required, then you have just consumed that time another way.

Break Down Silos of Data and Encourage Collaboration

This is never an overnight project and it is always a project that encounters deep resistance even from those who support improvement.

The existence of a crisis can often be the very lever that is needed to drive changes in data ownership and enable you to break down these silos. Supply chain disruption is rarely local and it is rarely self-contained. This means that communication and data sharing will cross department lines, company lines and geographical boundaries. This is particularly true when the disruption is driven by scarcity, because time is of the essence in these communications and wading through silos of data can be a big time waste.

The other thing your critical communications need is accuracy and what is often called ‘one version of the truth’. Siloed data makes getting to a single version of the truth very difficult.

Let’s use the example of implementing skip lots procedures again. If your data is siloed, it makes the extraction of needed information to substantiate such a policy more difficult, and it probably delayed your ability to achieve a final outcome. There might even have been a little fear that not all the information needed for an accurate evaluation of vendors or items was available. After all, how can you know what data is contained in a silo that you haven’t been able to access?

Future State of Your QMS

For some companies, disruption will be short-lived and the need for crisis level management or tasking will rapidly decrease as global transport and other constraints begin to lighten. Those companies will be able to fall back on old routines. For other companies, the crisis will develop into higher levels of normal business because as Peter Navarro told us, we will need to move to on-shoring of critical elements of production related to health, safety, defense and other needs. If these possibilities of volume increases turn into reality, then many of the ideas discussed in these articles are processes that you will want your QMS to robustly support. If you find that you are struggling with maintaining these initiatives as volume stabilizes at higher levels, then we hope your will reach out to us and ask for help. We’d love to support you and your QMS.

Preparing for Disruption that Lasts

Do you think this crisis will affect your organization much longer? Do you see it causing a permanent jump to higher levels of business operations? What concerns you the most and the least about that? Where do you think you need to be more prepared? Use our Contact Us form to drop us a note.

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