Is your Quality System a waste of money?

Quality Management systems famously allowed Japanese car makers to penetrate the U.S. and European markets in the 1960s and 1970s. Not only were their cars cheaper than western-made products, they were better (remember the Austin Allegro?). Since this the principles of Quality Management have been widely adopted beyond manufacturing industry. Companies in all sectors of the economy have implemented Quality Management, used tools such as Kaizen, Lean and Six-Sigma and seen the benefits of greater customer satisfaction, reduced wastage, higher efficiency and thus bigger profits.

In Europe, and several states beyond, aviation companies have implemented Quality Management Systems (QMS, now renamed as Compliance Monitoring in some domains). Thousands of euros are spent on documentation, training, audits, managers and recording systems and yet it’s very rare to hear an ‘Accountable Manager’ boast about the return he’s made on his investment in Quality. The huge majority of aviation companies see QMS as an expense and a burden on the business. It’s not like that in other industries so why has this happened in Aviation? I think it’s because aviation companies are required by regulation to implement Quality Management or Compliance Monitoring Systems. It’s a bit like telling your teenage kids to do something; if they do it at all then they’ll do the absolute minimum they can get away with, and they’ll complain while they’re doing it.

The last few years have seen the introduction of mandatory Safety Management Systems (SMS) for aviation companies. SMS originated in the U.S. Air Force ballistic missile division in the 1950’s and has now been adopted in many other industries such as oil production and nuclear power. Now that SMS is mandated in aviation there’s a risk that, like QMS, it will be adopted grudgingly and many companies will fail to get the safety and commercial benefits available from an effective SMS.

What QMS and SMS have in common is a ‘total systems approach’. This means that neither quality nor safety can be managed in isolation. Every part of an organisation, or the wider aviation system, contributes to safety and operational excellence. Flight safety can’t just be left to the pilots, the aircraft must be maintained (engineering), the passengers must be screened (security), the charts must be up-to-date (technical publications). The list is endless. Even the guys who clean the aircraft can contribute, perhaps they’ll see some loose wires under a seat or find a fluid leak and report it.

The European regulations for Air Operations and Aircrew recognise this ‘total systems approach’ and mandate a single ‘management system’ incorporating all the elements of safety and quality management. Implemented effectively this management system can boost the total performance of an organisation, but if an organisation doesn’t ‘believe in’ the benefits available it could be seen as a very expensive box-ticking exercise.

Is your organisation like the surly teenager? Are you doing quality and safety because somebody told you you had to do it, or are you committed to a better way of working? Do you have the enthusiasm of the teenager who’ll stay up late for days on end developing a new Minecraft world?

If you’d like help getting the most out of your management system then contact McKechnie Aviation. Our consultants understand business as well as regulations.