Quality Assurance During Supply Chain Disruption

Frances Donnelly Supply Chain Leave a Comment

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Quality protects the supply chain

In this second article in our series, we want to ignite your thinking on actions you can take that will address the crisis conditions affecting your Quality processes. Our focus will be on policies and actions that can help you meet the most pressing demand of disruption – too much to do.

How Quality Protects the Supply Chain

The increase in tasking for your Quality team will come from many different sources. In the simplest case, it will occur because more material is needed to support increases in volume. In the more complex case, it will occur because scarcity requires smaller and more frequent material deliveries. Regardless, your need will be to identify how you can possibly reduce the load and/or expand your capacity without putting the quality of your goods and services at risk.

Quality Assurance Priorities

As early as you can in the process, review and update any relevant procedural documents so that they will accommodate the range of activities and changes you are anticipating. Here are some procedure areas you may want to focus on right away:

Skip Lots

You might want to consider adjusting your skip lot metrics or introduce them if you haven’t used them before. Skip lot techniques can significantly lighten the inspection load. If you already have well-managed, easy-to-access historical performance data in regard to materials and vendors, it should be easy to justify this adaptation to meet your risk objectives.

Rapid Vendor Qualification

If you don’t have a specific accelerated vendor qualification or materials qualification process, now might be the time to develop one. The need to adapt to alternate materials or vendors in this manner frequently occurs when dealing with scarcity in the supply chain. It will also affect you if your organization has chosen to make the effort to retool or repurpose your facilities for alternative products.

Expanding Capacity:

The two most common methods for expanding capacity are to add more labor and be more efficient.

Adding Labor Effectively

When it comes to adding labor, you are going to find yourself in competition with other internal departments. It is a good idea to seek out staff from other departments that you feel confident have the needed skills to supplement your Quality department staff. Caution is the name of the game here, though, as you don’t want to recruit someone else’s pivotal resource and undermine inter-departmental relationships. Speak to their management first and make your case about why you need skilled staff to move into the Quality department. It can be helpful to your case if you can position the change within a well-understood model of managing risk. It may be particularly useful to point out that in times of materials shortages and/or accelerated demand, formal risk management procedures suggest that materials that get used must be adequately cleared so that labor or other expended resources don’t go to waste. Making sure materials and tasks are done right is critical to not wasting scarce resources.

Don’t forget - another way to make recruitment more accessible is to break tasks down into levels of expertise. Ask your team to identify the repetitive low risk tasks they complete and then build junior level positions that can be trained in that level of execution without large investments in time. This will free your more senior team members to focus on tasks that have more complexity and require more skill and independent thinking.

Delegating Inspection to In-Line Workers

Look for places where in-line inspection or data collection can be instituted; this idea is a little tricky and requires having confidence in operations staff, but may go a long way to relieve some of the burden placed on the Quality department. And remember to update your Quality system with any such changes. Once again, a robust and adaptive Quality Management System is a big help here. The right QMS will make it possible to easily create instruction sets that can be adapted for use during in-line inspection activities.

Creating Centralized Communication

Speaking of other departments, remember the core Quality philosophy: everyone is everyone’s customer and vendor. If you don’t already have formal communications channels in place between departments, now would be an excellent time to establish them. Here are a few easy and useful ways to get started.

The Daily Anything

Tasks that are reliably repetitive can alleviate the crisis in crisis management. If teams know there is a once or twice a day coordination meeting or communication event, then they can be trained to use those events to help them evaluate the immediacy of action or communication. Simply applying the question “can this wait till?” will provide a benchmark for understanding if something is an immediate priority or can be considered a lesser level of urgency. Limiting interruptions in this way can improve productivity and reduce stress on staff.

Put it on a List

Reducing the reliance on verbal communications and random emails will alleviate pressure on everyone. Requiring an action or a request be placed on the appropriate list and then prioritized will empower more efficient decision-making. Then you have to be willing to empower staff to follow the priorities. Don’t forget - when you roll this out, there must be a way to update that list in real time. By the way, creating a list doesn’t mean that there is no room for exceptions; instead, it makes exceptions really meaningful.

Building Partnerships

In most cases these ideas are based on building partnerships with other departments by showing them how Quality will support them and help them do their jobs well. When you are ready for more ideas, check back with us on 28 April for Applying Collaborative Quality Software to Fix your Supply Chain Crisis, the third of our four articles. In this article, we guide you through some behaviors that will help you establish routines that can take some of the stress out of your crisis.

Beating the Crisis

In the meantime, we’d love to know how you and your team are doing? What system issue or toolset has been the greatest hindrance to your productivity? What are you doing to overcome that problem? Use our Contact Us form to drop us a note.

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