Culture, Quality and Culture of Quality

To understand what the Culture of quality represents, let’s break it down into two terms: Quality and Company culture and try to define them first. Then, let’s see how they again fit together and form the Culture of quality.

Quality is a term not easily definable and mostly based on perspective, since it applies to everything around us. If we take, for instance, the quality of products and/or services in industries like manufacturing and engineering, we can say that Quality is what makes those products/services ‘fit for purpose’, while at the same time satisfying customer/client/end-user expectations. ISO 9000 also defines Quality as the “degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfils requirements”.

Company culture can be defined as a “set of shared values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterise an organisation”. We could say it represents the personality of an organisation – all the traits that make your company what it is: ways how employees feel about the work they do, how they interact with others, values they believe in, the decisions they make every day, where they see the company going, and so much more.

All of those traits collected in an organisation’s culture have a huge influence on the quality produced by the organisation. That is why we strive to instil quality in the company’s culture and create a Culture of Quality.

Quality Culture (or Culture of Quality) can be defined as “the opinions, beliefs, traditions and practices concerning quality”. It represents the environment in which the employees follow guidelines, take quality-focused actions, talk about quality, but also see other employees do the same thing. Culture of Quality is also an environment where everyone can feel the quality all around them.

The benefits of having a culture of quality

So, now that we know how to recognise the culture of quality, let’s look at all the good things that can come out of having the culture of quality in your company.

Companies that focus on Quality and manage it effectively:

  • have lower costs, since quality generates savings (mostly through less reworks needed late in the process), which boosts their profits;
  • their brand and reputation enhance;
  • their efficiency increases;
  • are more successful;
  • are more protected against risks;
  • survive and thrive (keep on growing).

Employees that go above and beyond regarding quality and understand its importance:

  • are more productive and innovative;
  • make fewer mistakes (and, accordingly, their companies spend far less time and money correcting mistakes);
  • are more engaged;
  • better understand their roles (resulting in fewer issues, less wastage and lower costs);
  • are more proactive;
  • are happier.

Companies that make sure their stakeholders’ needs are met and their expectations exceeded:

  • receive fewer complaints;
  • instil customer with confidence and loyalty;
  • make customers happier;
  • get higher customer satisfaction;
  • achieve customer delight;
  • provide better customer experiences;
  • get more referrals and higher customer lifetime value.

Ways to create a culture of quality

After seeing what good comes out of implementing the culture of quality, another question is presenting itself – What should we do to get all these benefits? How and where to start with the culture of quality implementation?

There is no strict path to follow to create a culture of quality in your organisation. Each organisation is different and will require different tools and techniques. But all of the companies would have the same first step.

Evaluate your current company culture

First, through evaluation, define and outline company values. Once you and your company see where you stand with your current culture, you are ready to start the process of improving it by embedding the quality in it.

Look at your evaluation with Quality in mind and see if those values speak quality. That will give you a rough idea of what parts you should be focusing on the most.

According to the Quality Magazine: “Companies that have achieved the true culture of quality, demonstrate three common traits: leadership commitment, employee ownership, and organisation-wide continuous improvement”.

Some of the most important parts of this process of developing a culture that fosters quality are mentioned below and directly feed in the values mentioned above. Each company, during their journey, should decide the way they would implement any of those steps and where their focus will lie, depending on their current culture, their organisation, employees and the work they do.

Involve Senior Management

One of the most important aspects of creating a culture of quality is getting everyone involved. That does not just include senior management, but makes them the first ones to get involved. If the top of the company is advocating quality, it is more likely that the employees will follow and take this quality journey seriously.

The entire company must embrace a quality mindset in everything they do, including cross-department interactions. This is easiest to accomplish if starting from the top because that gives it credibility and a push for everyone to commit to it.

Involve your customers / end-users

As we mentioned at the start, Customers play a big role in defining quality. So, don’t ignore their feedback, but rather use it to improve your culture of quality.

Since everything you are doing should be about the needs and expectations of customers and end-users, ask them what their wants and needs are. The easiest way to do that is by using customer experience surveys and asking direct questions often. But also, pay attention during any kind of feedback – meetings, UAT testing, emails, etc.

Make your processes well-defined and easy to comprehend

Well-defined processes in the company show all the employees how to carry out their assignments and it makes the work uniform across different teams. If employees understand the activities that make a process and all of it is very well documented, it is much easier to implement it in everyone’s daily routine. That way the employees perform their work without having to be reminded to follow the process guidelines.

For a process to become a routine, employees have to be educated on the use of the process and trained in the use of the tools that will help them in their work.

Processes that should follow this are not just development and QA, but rather all the processes in the company. Each process defines the minimum set of activities mandated for each project executed in the organisation, making the QA process focus on QA activities and other processes focus on their tasks at hand.

Create QA department, if you don't have one

No single tool, test or person can guarantee quality. That also means that the culture of quality is not achievable by a QA team alone. Having a dedicated team or a department will take you closer to it, because your QA department should champion quality within the organisation.

That means they will be:

  • providing counsel and guidance on quality matters;
  • monitoring quality achievements;
  • evaluating and obtaining tools that will improve productivity and quality.

If you already have an existing QA department that focuses only on uncovering defects, that is a good start, because their knowledge will be improving quality. But you should still work on modifying their responsibilities to include the ones mentioned above, since that will make a big difference in achieving the required level of quality and helping other employees play their part in it.

Additional change you should do regarding your QA department is making them champions of organisational process initiatives. Since their job is to make organisations better at producing outputs that meet the needs and expectations of the stakeholders, there is no one better to advocate for those initiatives.

Also, remember that your QA department should be of the same importance as any other department.

Train employees in quality culture

Employees need to be involved in the culture of quality in a way that they understand what they should do, how, and also most importantly why. The culture of quality is not made by simply following the rules, but training everyone to think about quality, own it, care about it and act upon it.

Embedding quality in the company means involving everyone (not just developers and testers) and teaching them what their responsibilities are, what the idea behind the culture change is and what the plan for the future is.

One other aspect of training employees is asking for feedback. Given the opportunity, employees will adopt a quality mindset if they see their input is valued and their decisions impact the overall work and the company.

In addition to the QA team training other employees in quality (process, tools, activities) and management influencing cultural values, teamwork should be encouraged, as well as employees learning from one another.

Create a reward system for achieving excellence in quality

This will be different in any company, depending on their capabilities and wishes, but it is important because it has a great impact on employee performance and motivation.

A reward system can include monetary rewards and recognition or praise. The system should define goals and actions so that employees know what is expected from them to receive the rewards/recognition. That way, when the goals are achieved or actions completed, they get the rewards or recognition immediately. Remember, the time aspect of the recognition is very important – “delayed recognition is as good as denied recognition”.

If quality is an important issue for a company, the reward system that they design should not emphasise rewarding the quantity of work accomplished by a business unit.

Maintenance - once you have it, don't lose it

Once you and your company go through this long process of developing such a culture, don’t forget about it, but rather work on maintaining it.

Don’t forget to include everyone in this part of the process as well. Everyone should support the maintenance and contribute to it.

The best way to do that is to not stand still and continually drive the improvement effort.

So, how to do that? Well, here are some actions you can take:

  • introduce quality metrics and use them to re-evaluate processes and behaviours;
  • maintain open and honest communication, ask your employees for feedback and suggestions and use collected information to work towards improvements;
  • work on promoting quality and other desired values (through improving accountability, clarifying goals and responsibilities, providing training and support, mentoring, rewarding good performance, engaging employees etc.).

And at the end, do not forget:

Quality is everyone’s responsibility.

(W. Edwards Deming, Father of the Quality)