Quality Objectives

Are you having a difficult time identifying quality objectives for your organization? You’re not alone.

According to ISO 9000:2005, 3.2.5, a quality objective is something sought or aimed for, related to quality. ISO 9001:2000, 5.4.1, states your quality objectives must be measurable and consistent with the quality policy.

Clause 5.3 of ISO 9001:2000 says your quality policy is a framework for establishing quality objectives. It also says that the policy must include a commitment to 1) comply with requirements and 2) continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system.

So, using the quality policy as a framework, you would have a quality objective to measure the degree to which requirements are being met, as well as, a quality objective that measures the results of the quality management system.

If your quality policy identifies other important areas, for example, product reliability, you would be expected to have another measurable target for product reliability. ISO 9001:2000, clause 8.2.1, says a required performance measure is for customer satisfaction.

Even with this guidance, some organizations still struggle on how to express meaningful quality objectives.

Remember, goals are conditions to be achieved in the future. They should be defined consistent with your vision and mission. Goals are established to guide your decisions and actions. However, they usually do not involve measurable results, and therefore, do not change as often as objectives.

Objectives are focused on critical issues and milestones. They describe the activities and targets to achieve your goals. They even identify the dates for completing the activities. They are measurable in terms of being achieved, or not. For example, a general goal might be to reduce waste. The related, specific objective might be to reduce waste from 4% to 3% by the end of 2008.

Depending on your industry, you might consider quality objectives such as:

Requirements Traceability = Traceable to Design / Total Requirements
Design Stability = Change Requests / Product Releases
Test Rate = Tests Passed / Tests Planned
Scrap Rate = Product Rejects / Products Produced
Problem Rate = Problem Reports / Total Customers
Fix Response Rate = Fixes Closed on Time / Fixes Due
Return Rate = Products Returned / Products Shipped
Repair Failure Rate = Nonconforming Units / Repaired Units
Complaint Rate = Received Complaints /Total Customers
Customer Satisfaction Index = (Questions x Ratings) /Surveys Returned
On-time Delivery = Deliveries by Due Date / Deliveries Scheduled
Service Quality = Defective Transactions / Total Transactions
Milestone Delay = (Phase Duration – Planned Duration) / Planned Duration Defect Removal = Defects Removed / Defects Reported in Test Cycle
Action Effectiveness = (Actions Taken – Repeated Nonconformities) / Actions Taken

Some of these quality metrics would be expressed over a period of time, e.g., complaints per customer per year. And, some values may be multiplied by 100 to give a percentage. Also, the objectives don’t have to be variable measures. You could include installation of a new document management system by the end of 2008 as a quality objective.

Make sure you establish SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed.

Specific: Identify the expected result. Be precise on the desired outcome. All the concerned persons should know what is required.

Measurable: Quantify the result and ensure you have a reliable system for measuring it. You should know when you have achieved the objective.

Achievable: The objective should be realistic given the target and date. Resources must be available to deliver the result with reasonable effort.

Relevant: Links to business success should be clear so people are motivated to meet the objective. Ensure people can influence the outcome.

Timed: Establish a timeframe for reaching the objective. Monitor progress against interim targets on the way to achieving the stated objective.

Please be careful how you set these quality objectives and how you communicate them. You might find people actually manipulating processes to achieve the desired results, especially if the numbers are used to evaluate employee performance.

When handled poorly, performance targets can result in internal competition and a lack of cooperation. In fact, a specific process objective can be optimized at the expense of overall system performance.

If a target is perceived as arbitrary, and set beyond the capability of the process, it may lead to employee frustration, reduced morale, and even lower performance. Individuals must feel they have some control over the outcome for an objective to actually promote improvement. The objectives should help monitor and control the processes, not the people.

Quality objectives should be based on comprehensive strategic planning. You should define measures to help identify needed process improvements, not as evidence for employee appraisals.