In a modern economy, any venture that wishes to survive aggressive competition needs to makes an emphasis on effectiveness, quality, and customer relations. High levels of product rejection, returns, and customer complaints indicate a greater problem within the company that needs to be urgently fixed before the revenues drop and the enterprise loses its market share to competitors. In this case study, the manufacturing department of a widget-producing company has shown high rejection rates and warranty returns.
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The service department has also been having plenty of complaints from their customers. At the same time, neither of them has any detailed records or understanding of the issues. The purpose of this paper is to provide a quality-improvement plan using the COPIS (Customers, Output, Processes, Input, Suppliers) framework.
The justification for the QI Plan
Due to the widespread use of the Sigma Six quality control framework among the competitors, the margins for rejection rates and faulty productions are extremely slim. According to Mitra (2016), the acceptable rejection rates for the software industry are at 1% or less, whereas for this company they are at 2%. Returns within warranty periods are stated to be at 5%, while the industry averages are 2% and below.
Lastly, the customer complaint rate is expected to be 1% for all services provided by the company (Mitra, 2016). The service department reports a skyrocketing complaint rate of 7%. To summarize, the situation with quality control in the company is severe, as the results continue to drop, profit is lost, and there are no mechanisms of recording and reporting failures or facilitating change. Therefore, a new Quality Improvement (QI) plan is necessary, in order to transform the production process and reel the product and service quality parameters back within acceptable margins.
New Approaches to Customer Service (Customers)
One of the primary ways of improving the quality of the product is to adjust it to fit the customer demands. Customers have a particular set of traits they are looking for in a widget or in any other similar software detail that is used for display and control functions in applications. The general demands for quality are as follows: simplicity, intuitive use, reliability, ease of integration into other programs, and comfortable demonstration of the result on the screen (Steidl, Deissenboeck, Poehlmann, Heinke, & Uhink-Mergenthaler, 2014). Naturally, there are different peculiarities to each order, but based on the requirements for the widget, they could be placed into different groups.
There are several approaches to optimizing customer services. The first approach is based on analyzing orders that were completed without refunds. It can be conducted internally but has a high margin for error. The second option is surveying the overall trends for the market and optimizing customer service to fit the industry. While it does help to catch up with competitors, it lacks precision (Alpolat, 2017).
The proposed solution is based on customer requirements and satisfaction measures. It involves introducing a customer experience points system and required customer outputs as a means of learning customer requirements. The customer satisfaction measures are based on written verbatim feedback as well as various CSAT parameters to be performed on a monthly basis (Alpolat, 2017). Evidence shows that higher customer satisfaction positively correlates with the lower rate of returns and defects discovered in use.
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Output Controls and Measurements (Output)
The primary step in improving output controls and reducing the number of defects is to provide direct definitions of what said defects are. As it stands, the company treats defects as anything that goes wrong for the customer after they have purchased the widget. It is not a correct approach. Identifying what defects are actually present in the process allows making the second step in improving output controls, and that is identifying opportunities for defects. The probability of defects is the highest in these situations. The third step involves reconfiguring the entire production line in order to minimize the number of opportunities for defects (Mitra, 2016).
Lastly, the new output control system will make revisions of the existing processes on a bi-yearly basis, in order to locate any potential ways to improve the quality beyond the existing measures. During the three months after the implementation of the proposed QI system, revisions will be made on a monthly basis.
Process Improvement Approaches (Processes)
There are two potential process improvement approaches used within the context of a Sigma Six framework. The first kind is the “breakthrough” kind, which is used to quickly cross the distance and achieve significant product improvements over a short period of time (Akpolat, 2017). The other type is the continuous improvement model, in which gradual improvements to the workflow and organization of the process are created over time (Akpolat, 2017).
Each of these approaches has their own strengths and weaknesses. As it stands, the organization requires a breakthrough approach, which would include streamlining and simplifying the production chain in order to minimize the number of issues currently being experienced. One of the major leaps could be done by appointing “process owners,” which are individuals responsible for estimating the quality of the product at different stages of production. Not only would that improve the quality by several checks along the way, but also would make it easier to find the individuals responsible for the defects. Employees frequently found to be unable to deliver a project
Input Management Approaches (Input)
The proposed input management approach for this company is based on providing official channels for the representatives of different departments to leave their thoughts and comments about how the system could be potentially improved. Feedback from the front lines is extremely important, as the individuals working within the system have greater insights about its merits and drawbacks when compared to managers and senior staff. Input should be provided in one of the following ways:
- By describing the issues and/or potential solutions to a problem to be reviewed by the quality control board.
- By conducting monthly seminars among workers, during which the employees and managers would be able to communicate and provide feedback about the existing quality control issues, and work out potential solutions.
- Through instating specialized workshops, which would be comprised of specialists from each stage of the production system. Their purpose would be to generate new ideas based on the existing knowledge of the system.
This way, input about the effectiveness of the quality control system would be generated from three interdependent sources, such as individual employees, collective employee and manager efforts, and specialized expert groups, thus contributing to the accuracy of the picture.
Supplier Management (Suppliers)
Suppliers provide essential work and components necessary for facilitating production. The IT industry is not as reliant on suppliers as other forms of business since the product they produce is codified elements of software. However, this type of labor does have some material requirements, as the employees require specific hardware and software. These materials are subjected to several demands, such as timeliness, quality, and support (Steidl et al., 2014). The supplier must be capable of complying with all of these demands. In addition, the company would require to have secondary suppliers in an event their primary ones would be unable to comply with the company’s orders or regulations.
Dealing with subcontractors, on the other hand, is a different issue. Subcontractors are companies and individuals to whom the company delegates certain specifics and parts of the overall project (Steidl et al., 2014). For example, certain parts of the code can be produced by these entities, to be later included into a widget. As it stands, there are no quality control routines for their labor. The code is simply inserted into the widget, and if it works, the product is accepted.
There is no short-term or long-term foresight, and the company’s own programmers, who did not write the code, usually have to deal with any follow-up issues. Fixing this issue involves providing the subcontractors with clear and understandable instructions, outlining the demands for the product, and never judging the quality of work without a trial run period.
Conclusions and Recommendations
As it is possible to see, the company has problems on all levels of quality control, starting with the lack of instruments for customer feedback, and followed with a lack of instruments to define defects and establish the quality of the production process. There are no individuals responsible for the quality processes during different stages, and there are no well-established mechanisms of employee input and feedback. As a result, the quality of the product suffers, which brings additional discomfort to the customers and results in higher return and complaint rates.
The proposed plan for QI changes is based on the COPIS framework, and includes the following:
- Providing a clear channel for customer complaints and customer satisfaction analysis. Customers will be requested to provide their feedback upon receiving the product as well as approximately 1 month after getting to use it.
- Providing the necessary definitions for defects, analyzing the potential for defects to appear, changing the production process to minimize the chances for potential defects, and conducting reviews on a bi-yearly basis.
- Streamlining the production process and appointing process owners, responsible for ensuring quality at different stages of the process.
- Creating a three-tier system of feedback and input provision for managers and employees, in order to enable them to provide valuable insights into the issues pertaining to the quality of the production. Using that insight to guide further deliberations.
- Providing suppliers and subcontractors with clear and concise demands for the quality of their products, impose strict regulation and control upon receiving the provided services and materials.
At first, the proposed change should be applied using a breakthrough model, which would enable the company to quickly gain ground and improve quality to match the standards of the industry. After that, the company would need to adopt the continuous improvement strategy in order to keep upgrading the quality control system on the go, in accordance with the tenets of the Sigma Six framework. That way, it would not be necessary to perform breakthroughs while suffering from a loss of quality in between phases. The company would survive only if it manages to adapt to the realities of the market, which means catering to the customer’s wishes and providing a high-quality product.
Akpolat, H. (2017). Six sigma in transactional and service environments. London, UK: Routledge.
Mitra, A. (2016). Fundamentals of quality control and improvement (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Steidl, D., Deissenboeck, F., Poehlmann, M., Heinke, R., & Uhink-Mergenthaler, B. (2014). Continuous software quality control in practice. 2014 IEEE International Conference on Software Maintenance and Evolution, 1-14.
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