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Democracy is cooperation

Complaint Management is one of the most exciting topics in the democratization of quality management. This is because only a few processes in a company make it necessary in a similar way to network the most diverse users and to bring them to a common action. What is missing in many places, however, is a suitable workflow management system. Anyone looking for worthwhile fields for process improvements will therefore quickly find what they are looking for in the management of deviations.

From a QM perspective, complaint management is a real classic. For many years now, there have been sophisticated procedural instructions on how to deal with deviations in incoming goods, in production, in the shipping warehouse or in customer service. Above all, the automotive standard 8D provides valuable guidance here. So why, of all things, does Non Conformity Management (NCM) lend itself as a test case for QM democratization? Answers can be found by taking an honest look at current practice: In many places, there is still a considerable gap between aspiration and reality.

In order to get a feeling for the extent to which your company may also be affected by this, it is worth taking a look at the following issues:

  1. in the case of ongoing complaints, how exactly do we know where we currently stand in the process, which department still has to complete which subtask, and whether the deadlines set for this are sufficient?
  2. are we able to evaluate the completed processes in their entirety so that we can a) recognize the costs of our complaints system and b) eliminate possible repeat errors as part of continuous improvement process (CIP)?
  3. do we draw the right conclusions from the complaints? How do we incorporate this knowledge into product development and process design?

Democracy needs transparency

My experience is that the majority of companies can only answer such questions in part. This is because there is usually a lack of transparency that would allow them to see the entire process in all its ramifications. But what is the reason for this? Well, at the end of the day, it’s the current IT support. Especially in the complaints department, there is hardly any database-supported system in use anywhere. In other words, a system that links all process participants across departments, guides them through their tasks with suitable workflows, and thus makes the entire complaints process controllable from start to finish.

At this point, it seems obvious that the enterprise resource planning system (ERP) should be able to build up a corresponding democracy. And certainly, thanks to its many possibilities for standardizing business processes throughout the company, ERP offers the very best prerequisites for reducing the existing deficits. But all these possibilities are both a blessing and a curse, because many employees believe that all too powerful IT tools are created all too quickly. Those who are not exactly power users then feel overwhelmed by the ERP and prefer to create their own tools instead. Preferably, this is done with on-board tools from the Office area. But with every Excel, Word or Outlook macro, isolated solutions are created that can no longer be monitored in their entirety, let alone controlled and evaluated in a process-related manner.

Lean workflows

However, a remedy is possible. The key to the successful democratization of NCM lies in setting up the process and the IT supporting the process from the user’s point of view. Basically, it is important to understand that most process participants have rather sporadic points of contact with complaint management and only ever complete partial tasks as part of an action. Therefore, lean workflow solutions are required that can be operated ad hoc without unduly distracting the users from their actual work.

In practice, it is almost always sufficient to send colleagues a text message or an e-mail to the device of their choice. The message contains a brief description of the task at hand and a deep link that automatically takes users to the part of the workflow that concerns them. As in an app, a personalizable user interface opens up in which the currently pending ToDo can be processed with minimal effort. In the background, integration with the ERP ensures that the process information relevant to the user is provided automatically. The forwarding of the complaint process through the rest of the process chain is also automated.

Process and cost efficiency

The use of a company-wide QMS is recommended for seamless monitoring of ongoing processes. In this context, it is advantageous if the QMS is part of a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution. If this is the case, a service-centric architecture can be established, resulting in cost-optimized IT operations. Like no other software system, the fully integrated QM software is then able to prepare the necessary information along the entire value chain, make it available to the process participants in a task-related manner, and then systematically evaluate it again. This provides industrial companies with a management solution that not only efficiently resolves complaints, but also guarantees that they can learn from them. In this way, QMS becomes the first port of call for incorporating the findings of each measure into the CIP. In addition, management receives a reliable information basis for evaluating the costs of the complaint system and, if necessary, breaking them down to individual cost units. In this way, the QM software becomes the central platform of a democratization program that opens up QM knowledge across departments and is thus able to measurably increase the company’s competitiveness.