Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Taking the pulse on global quality

October 16, 2013
By Elizabeth Burns

Today, strategies and tools like Six Sigma and Lean help management squeeze just about every drop of value from their organizations, but customers, senior executives and a host of other stakeholders expect more.

ASQ’s Global State of Quality Research creates a baseline of fundamental quality and continuous improvement practices in 22 countries, including Canada. Findings and analysis provide a business guide to improve organizational performance. For Canadian manufacturers, the report provides valuable insights on where quality gaps may exist.

ASQ’s research partner, APQC — an industry leader in quality and continuous improvement benchmarking research — identified four themes from the data, including quality governance and management, outcomes and measure, competencies and training, and culture.

Governance and management
Aligning an organization’s quality goals and measures with its overall strategic goals creates the greatest impact on overall performance. The existence of a framework or standardized processes for quality management can improve the efficiency of assessing adoption and compliance to quality principles throughout the organization.

According to the report, 65 per cent of Canadian organizations use ISO as their quality framework, while 11 per cent use no quality framework. In comparison, 60 per cent of U.S. companies use ISO as a framework. Many Canadian companies are finding ISO works well for integrated management systems — improving their ability to meet customer requirements in various markets. For example, TS 16949 automotive quality management systems integrate with AS9100 aerospace quality management systems and integrate with ISO 14001 environment management systems.

Of the countries surveyed, the Czech Republic has the highest percentage of organizations using ISO as a quality framework at 83 per cent, and Finland the lowest at 56 per cent.

According to the research, senior leadership governs quality in 33 per cent of all Canadian companies. Just more than 25 per cent of Canadian respondents said quality is governed by a centralized quality department.

In describing what quality does within their organization, 29 per cent of Canadian respondents said quality is a continuous improvement activity, while nearly 25 per cent said quality is a strategic asset and competitive differentiator to manage the performance of the entire organization.

Outcomes and measures
Providing quality measures to the right people at the right time on a standard schedule enables the decision-making process to be driven by data.

According to the survey, nearly 36 per cent of executives in Canadian organizations receive quarterly reports and 27 per cent of frontline managers in Canada receive daily reports.

Just more than 46 per cent of Canadian respondents said reporting is standardized. More and more Canadian organizations are selecting sensible measurables — it is no longer just “track quality issues and on-time delivery.” Therefore, selecting a common vocabulary — as well as the right quality measures and data — can have a powerful impact on overall performance.

Competencies and training
Most companies surveyed provide training on quality-related activities — only four per cent do not — but there is room for improvement in how staff are trained. The opportunity may be tied to governance, since organizations that govern quality with a centralized group are more likely to provide quality training than those where senior executives govern quality processes.  

The majority of organizations surveyed offer training in various quality improvement systems. An average of 61 per cent of Canadian respondents said their organization provides training in auditing practices and ISO management systems. However, Canada has the lowest percentage — 48 per cent — of companies who provide training in quality management. Twenty-nine per cent of Canadian organizations train tier-one suppliers on their quality management systems.

Quality and customers are now so closely aligned in successful organizations that the two are becoming one. An organization’s definition of quality, the quality processes it employs to drive performance and its culture all factor into the degree of alignment between quality and customers.

In Canada, 33 per cent of respondents said they share product or service quality performance with customers and more Canadian organizations are slowly beginning to include suppliers in the determination of what quality means. Fifty-five percent of Canadian respondents agree or somewhat agree that the customer is the only person who should define quality.

Incentives can play a role in defining quality culture. According to the data, 50 per cent of Canadian respondents said their organization uses informal manager recognition and 33 per cent use financial incentives.

For more information and to access the report, visit
As owner of E. Burns Consulting, Elizabeth Burns ( has been successfully assisting organizations in manufacturing, service and not-for-profit industries in implementing ISO 9001 and related business management systems since 1990. She has been an ASQ Fellow since 2009 and an ASQ Certified Quality Engineer since 1988.


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