Quality Objectives

As auditors, we are called upon to assess conformity and effectiveness. To assess process effectiveness, we need to evaluate to what extent the planned activities are being realized and the planned results are being achieved.

We may need to venture outside the defined scope of a process audit to fully judge its effectiveness (results). To assess how well the process is meeting the needs of its internal customers, go interview those internal customers. They may have a different view of the deliverables and results than the process supplying them. Their opinion can lead to the facts needed to assess process effectiveness.

Another key element in evaluating effectiveness is to examine the planned results expected by the process owner in terms of their quality objectives. However, some organizations struggle to identify meaningful quality objectives. As an auditor, you may be called upon to explain what is meant by a specific, measurable quality target.

According to ISO 9000:2005, 3.2.5, a quality objective is something sought, or aimed for, related to quality. Clause 5.3 of ISO 9001:2008 says the quality policy is a framework for establishing quality objectives. It also says the policy must include a commitment to 1) comply with requirements and 2) continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system.

And, it says in ISO 9001:2008, 5.4.1, that quality objectives must be measurable and consistent with the quality policy. Since the quality policy is the framework, it follows that an organization should have an objective to measure the degree to which requirements are being met, plus an objective to measure the results of the quality management system.

If the quality policy identifies other important areas, e.g., product reliability, the organization would be expected to have a measurable target for product reliability. In addition, ISO 9001:2008, 8.2.1, states customer satisfaction is a necessary performance measure for the quality management system.

Even with this guidance, some organizations struggle on how to express meaningful quality objectives. Remember, goals are conditions to be achieved in the future. They should be defined consistent with the organizational vision and mission. Goals are established to guide 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 the year.

Depending on the industry, organizations 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, objectives don’t have to be variable measures. For example, installation of a new document management system by the end of the year could be a quality objective.

In an article in Management Review nearly thirty years ago, George Doran defined the SMART way to set management objectives. The SMART acronym has evolved since then and can be applied to setting quality objectives. Make them 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.

Quality objectives should be based on comprehensive strategic planning. Organizations must be careful how they set these objectives and how they communicate them. Employees may manipulate processes to achieve the desired results, especially if the numbers are used to judge their personal 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 seen as arbitrary, and set beyond the capability of the process, it may lead to employee frustration, reduced morale, and 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.

As auditors, we can use the quality objectives and related results to help us assess process effectiveness. And, we can assist the organization by clarifying the need for specific, measurable quality objectives that help them manage and control their processes and overall business.