What it takes to make a difference

Leadership. Direction. Coordination. Communication. Coaching. All terms that could describe the critical role of the Management Representative (MR) in an ISO 9000 quality management system. Just as the point guard on a basketball team is responsible for setting up plays for his teammates, the MR is an enabler of the quality system. But, don’t confuse responsibility for enabling the quality management system with developing and implementing the quality management system. The ISO 9000 standard clearly places the latter responsibilities with “top management”.

The standard requires that the MR must be “a member of management” serving primarily as the “eyes” and “ears” of top management to monitor how well the quality system is developed and implemented. The MR primarily provides feedback to top management on the effectiveness of the quality management system.

The MR might want to be careful not to insolate top management from their responsibilities. The writers of the ISO 9000 standard perhaps saw the possibility of top management taking a “backseat” role in the operation of the quality system by delegating implementation responsibility to the “quality guy” (or gal). The result of this separates the real authority in the organization from the responsibility (i.e. accountability) for quality, including conformance of the QMS leading to lower effectiveness and efficiency overall.

That said, the effective MR will accept the responsibility and exercise the authority of enabling the proper functioning of the QMS to meet its objectives.

These duties, “irrespective of other responsibilities” include:

a) ensuring that processes needed for the quality management system are established, implemented and maintained,
b) reporting to top management on the performance of the quality management system and any need for improvement, and
c) ensuring the promotion of awareness of customer requirements throughout the organization. (ref. 5.5.2)

Let’s look at each of these individually.

ENSURING IMPLEMENTATION

ensuring-implementationThe first responsibility of the MR is to ensure that all necessary QMS processes are adequately defined, effectively deployed, and continually kept up. To accomplish this, the MR generally takes the role of project manager for the design and implementation of the QMS. This is often coordinated through one or more project teams who define processes relating to their areas of responsibility and involving appropriate functional managers. The MR may also coordinate or provide training to those developing the QMS processes and related documentation to ensure an adequate understanding of what is required.

As processes are defined (and documented), the MR may also oversee the document control function as it pertains to the control of QMS documentation. This will ensure that the processes are effectively described in terms that will satisfy all requirements.

Finally, the MR is often the coordinator of the internal auditors who monitor the compliance and effectiveness of the QMS. The effectiveness of the audit program is essential to the MR’s ability to ensure proper implementation and maintenance of the required processes.

REPORTING RESULTS

Beyond overseeing the implementation of the QMS, the MR is also responsible to report on the effectiveness and needed improvements of the QMS to top management for review and action. One means of reporting is the distribution of internal audit reports to the appropriate functional managers and tracking open issues through successful resolution.

The other primary means of MR reporting is by taking the role of facilitator for the management review. This can include:

Establishing the management review schedule

Developing the management review agenda

Coordinating the reporting of results

Guiding the discussions through the agenda

Suggesting needed improvements to the QMS

Publishing minutes of the management review

Effective and clear reporting will give top management the information needed to manage and improve the QMS effectiveness.

ENSURING AWARENESS

The third primary responsibility of the MR is to ensure that customer requirements are communicated throughout the organization so all employees are aware of requirements that pertain to their job responsibilities.

This does not necessarily mean that all communications must come directly from the MR. Instead, the MR must monitor how effectively this communication takes place and identify breakdowns that need to be addressed.

This duty of ensuring employee awareness has been frequently criticized as being too open-ended to be practical. What specific “customer requirements” must employees be “aware” of? Must all employees be aware of all customer requirements? What criteria is used to assess whether this communication has been effective?

As with many areas of the new standard, the use of general (aka “open-ended”) language leaves the interpretation open for the company to define for their own unique needs. Since the MR is responsible to ensure this awareness of requirements, he/she might do well to start by defining which customer requirements need to be addressed to which employees. Here are some leading questions that might help you get started:

QUESTIONS
EXAMPLES
What requirements are explicitly stated by our customers? How? In what format?
– Specifications
– Purchase orders
– Quality criteria
– Other documented criteria
What might be considered a customer requirement because of our advertised promises?
– Proposal details
– Quotations
– Catalog specifications
– Warrantees and return policies
– Marketing materials
What requirements might be implied by our customers as just doing good business?
– Delivering on time
– Prompt, accurate communications
– Reliable packaging

Once a list of customer requirements is made they can be associated with the employees (by position, workgroup or department) that affect the company’s ability to meet the requirements. Then the question must be asked,” How does this employee become aware of this requirement?” By asking “how?” the MR will be able to evaluate the communication processes that are in place (or not in place as the case may be) to ensure that the awareness of requirements is maintained. Some examples of the types of communication processes that might be used are:

Standard meeting agendas

Routing sheets for specifications

Approvals

Standard distribution lists

Employee bulletins

Procedure reviews

Controlled wall postings

Data charts showing the company’s performance against requirements

Employment handbooks

Electronic workflows

This list could obviously be expanded based on a company’s unique circumstances. By focusing on communication processes, and ensuring these processes are defined and implemented (including, perhaps, being subject to auditing), the MR can ensure effectiveness and repeatability throughout the organization. Keep in mind, though, that the MR’s direct responsibility is to “ensure” that the communication takes place and that it is effective, not necessarily to provide all the communication directly.

QUALITY LIAISON

A final (suggested) duty for the MR is that he/she serves as:

liaison with external parties on matters relating to the quality management system. (Ref. 5.5.2)

This can include coordinating audits with customers or your ISO registrar or other quality related communications that may be needed.

ARE YOU UP FOR THE JOB?

uncertaintyWhat characteristics and skills might you need to be effective in the role of Management Representative? Here are some thoughts:

Strong knowledge of ISO 9000 requirements

Broad knowledge of your company’s operation and its QMS

Ability to listen and influence

Ability to summarize information and communicate effectively

Project management and organizational skills

The Management Representative plays a critical role in your company’s QMS. The more clearly you understand the responsibilities being asked of you, and the more clearly the rest of the organization understands your role, the more effective you can be.