Quality Assurance Systems, Standard Operating PracticesPosted 6/25/2007
By Tony Passwater
When beginning to work on quality improvement and developing standard operating practices (SOPs), it is important to understand the meaning of quality. The dictionary may define "quality" as "a perception of excellence." However, it is not just the final product we deliver to the customer. The final product may be an important consideration in the total system, but it is not the whole picture for quality or quality assurance - not even close. In fact, if the key concepts of quality of process are put in place in any organization, the final product will always be of the highest standard.
It is not just how shiny, smooth and pretty the paint is on the vehicle from a collision repair or how well the vehicle handles and drives after service. Quality assurance includes a number of important process steps that often get overlooked and forgotten. These processes - when made consistent - develop into the standard operating practices (SOPs) that provide the meat for what is referred to as a system of quality management, which is better termed a "quality assurance system." The process itself must be designed to ensure that the quality of the final product is not simply just to identify defects. This is an important concept to understand and implement in your operation.
There is no doubt that the collision and mechanical repair industries are becoming more competitive every day. (This could be a sore subject for those businesses that are not receiving their fair share of work. This may be due to other shops in the area increasing their own production capabilities, improving their marketing programs, and/or their value to the customer.) For collision repairers, insurers may be using their direct repair program (DRP) network more and more to remain competitive themselves and retain policyholders.
This has caused many owners/ managers to point fingers at others and say, "They are cutting corners; They give away too much; We no longer have control of our future, etc." There is no doubt the business rules are changing, but something I was taught a long time ago was that when you point your finger at someone or something, there is usually three fingers pointing back at you as well.
The first step to really doing something about your business is to work on your business, and not in it all the time. Of course, many have used this popular phrase, but what does it mean? It simply means that you must set aside time to work on your business's long- and short-term management needs rather than spending all of your time on daily operational needs. When we have analyzed businesses worldwide, we see some consistent patterns, actions and reactions to daily operations. We also see a high percentage of the job function is dependent on the skill and knowledge of the individual performing the function, and not on a system that is part of the company's standard operating practices or culture. This makes it almost impossible to train and provide relief, since it is "all in the head" of the person performing the function.
The International Quality Standard
To begin identifying the process stages and transition points does vary, based on your personnel and production structure somewhat. But the concepts and methods for this transition are basically the same. It is important to identify your own company's process flow and begin to use recognized quality standards as a framework for your future improvements. The most effective quality-based and customer-focused standards have been developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). There are more than 200,000 certified companies worldwide using ISO-based quality management systems.
The ISO 9000:2000 quality standard outlines a system where the transition points can be identified and a handoff process is implemented throughout the process of doing business. This can include any aspect of your business, and this is, however, the easy part. What takes a commitment by all involved are the standards in which each process is to be completed and accepted by the next stage or process. If there is a breakpoint (noncompliance) to the standard, a root cause of the issue must be identified, and actions must be put in place to eliminate it in the future.
The Japanese would accomplish this with a process they call the "Five Whys." Never ask only one level of "Why did this happen?" But drill down to the five levels of why it happened. An example would be, "Why did the vehicle come over with some additional dents in the panel not repaired?" It may be obvious that the metal technician didn't fix the dents. But why not? Was it because of inadequate lighting in his work area? Was it because the person mapping or staging the vehicle didn't identify the damage? Was it because the customer didn't want them repaired but no one except the metal technician was told? Or were they caused while waiting to be taken to the paint department? Why, why, why? This ISO process is something any industry could greatly benefit from but few are willing to make the commitment ... most often they try to assign blame and not how to prevent it from happening.
For more information on ISO 9000:2000 standards as they apply to the collision industry, visit www.QASIDirect.com. There, you will find a complete ISO 9000:2000-based quality assurance system designed specifically for the collision repair industry.
Almost every time I mention the concept of "standardization," some people mistakenly think that every business becomes a clone. This is not the case. Let me illustrate what I mean by standardization by giving you a simple illustration that occurs in shops - how the customer keys are managed after drop-off. If a standardized system was implemented, there would be less confusion about where the keys are because there would be a process in place that would manage the keys and who kept them. The confusion over lost keys costs your business time and money. You or your staff can never recover lost hours, minutes or seconds. This is one simple example that shows the necessity in developing standard operating procedures for your business.
Become ISO Certified ...
The ISO has developed many standards over the years for many specific purposes and industry segments. In years past, the old standards were primarily designed around documenting procedures. They also required a massive commitment of time, effort and expenses to obtain full accreditation. This at times easily exceeded $50,000 and took more than a year of time to implement.
The goal was to demonstrate that the processes in an organization were being performed as they were documented. There was little to do with demonstrating improvement or that the processes were good. Just as the year 2000 was leaving us, so were the old ISO standards. A new set of standards has been adopted worldwide, ISO 9001:2000. These new standards focus on managing effective business processes and process improvement.
Key advantages over the earlier quality standards are user-friendliness to small businesses, emphasis on customer satisfaction, emphasis on the role and participation of top management, simplified document control, and emphasis on process control and auditing. This makes it a perfect framework for any industry and provides a well-proven system to improve the business. The key factor that differentiates this from many other programs our industry has participated in over the years is the certification by an independent third party, and the continued requirements to meet the certification annually. The auditing verifies compliance by examination and evaluation of objective evidence. This validates that applicable elements of the quality system are appropriate and effective, and have been developed, documented and implemented in accordance with specified requirements. This still may be "overkill" for the repair industry at this time to comply with an actual ISO certification audit, but there are other options for verifying compliance as well.
Being certified or compliant to ISO 9001:2000 is not designed to be a marketing program, even though it will certainly become marketable. The role of the quality standards is to improve your business by following a documented process for the entire operation - including your interaction with customers, vendors, employees and suppliers. The process of improvement is focused on the customer ... where it is best for the business. The bottom line is that it will focus everyone in your organization on improving your business, which will make you more profitable.
AutoInc. Web Site |
ASA Web Site |
ASA Leaders Gather to Discuss Legislative Policy |
Quality Assurance Systems, Standard Operating Practices |
Eco-Efficiency and Complience in Collision Repair |
What Would You Do? |
ASA's Annual Convention 2007 |
Guest Editorial |
Tech to Tech |
Tech Tips |
News Briefs |
Taking the Hill |
Around ASA |
Shop Profile |
Net Worth |
Stat Corner |
Copyright (c) 1996-2011. Automotive Service Association®. All rights reserved.