Quality: The Root of Supply Chain and Operational Excellence

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Early in my career, I worked as a director of quality at Dior, the French luxury brand. During my tenure there, I underwent my first FDA inspection. The inspector told me he looked over my resume and was a bit confused. He saw that in my career, I had moved from quality roles to production roles, from production to quality, then back again. 

“So,” he asked me, “what exactly do you do?” 

“When I'm in quality," I told him, "people say I'm a production guy. And when I’m in production, people say I'm a quality guy.” 

“You get it!" he replied. 

I have to agree. The point was just beginning to dawn on me then; all these years later, it's ingrained. Quality is important, and production is important. I care deeply about both. But most important of all, and what I care about most, is the larger system they’re both parts of. Only by perfecting that larger system can companies achieve true excellence. 

Focus on quality

Quality across company practices, from development to production and everything in between, is the root of excellence. For Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies, focusing on quality in practice and in ethos is critical. There are three key reasons why: 

  1. Customer satisfaction. A quality product leads to a positive experience, which keeps the customer returning to your product instead of trying another one. Customer satisfaction is the final statement in your relationship with the customer. 
  2. Brand reputation. Quality strengthens the brand and leads to greater market competitiveness. CPG companies build a good reputation very slowly. But thanks to social media, a bad reputation can arrive overnight. One defective product or ill-advised event can destroy a brand’s image. 
  3. Risk mitigation and output strength. By achieving reliable quality, businesses can function more consistently and safely. They also avoid the impacts of poor quality–from negative publicity to reputational losses, as well as from product scrap, inefficiency in production, delays in delivery, and nonstandardized activities causing worker accidents. Risk mitigation allows organizations to be more efficient and produce less waste. It functions as an investment in continuous improvement.

The fact is that good quality can bolster and grow a business. Bad quality can break it. Quality results from a virtuous cycle that all companies must continue to build and refine. 

Achieving quality at every stage

Organizational complexity and siloed processes make maintaining consistent performance and predictable output difficult for CPG organizations. Even for a single manufacturing site, companies employ hundreds or even thousands of people across dozens of departments. I've noticed that leaders, in seeking high organizational performance, sometimes miss the contribution they could make toward improving company-wide performance. The challenge here is that siloed visibility doesn't reveal the whole picture.

At enterprise-level companies, everyone’s roles are interdependent. Quality is as much a mentality as a methodology that serves a company’s operational excellence; all employees need to be on the same page about achieving it. Collaboration is key. Leaders must consider the whole company.

Employees need to be aligned around a shared mission for achieving performance. When teams are siloed or lack a unified vision for quality, consistently ensuring it is more challenging. It can be hard for employees to connect company performance to quality and see their role within quality principles if they are not directly connected to the production output. But most members of an enterprise do not work on the assembly line or in QA, so it is essential to build a connection between them and the product.

Quality can also be affected by indirect impacts outside the process development chain. For instance, beyond comfort for workers, air conditioning and HVAC systems play an important role in product quality in some industries. The team that operates those systems can impact material storage and product shelf life, and the moisture generated by these systems can elevate levels of bacterias or molds.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) within enterprise-scale companies often appear at odds with one another. Compliance goals might compete with innovation goals. For instance, compliance demands may require traditional materials approved for safety rather than allowing new or experimental materials that are lighter, more sustainable, or less expensive. Without a shared vision to unify everyone's efforts and metrics, disconnected or competing KPIs make it harder to ensure quality throughout the company. The key is good alignment, or unification, of all systems. 

The holistic approach to quality

CPG companies achieve consistent performance by taking a holistic approach toward quality that involves processes, people, and information. When these are aligned, technology becomes the enabler that puts it all in motion. 

In day-to-day operations, information, processes and people can not be disconnected. Every day people have to make decisions driven by established processes for reliability and based on available information to support their decisions. By improving and entrenching processes, leaders can build greater consistency into delivering the highest quality.

Then consider how people fit into the process. Every single employee in the company contributes to the quality of the output, not just the Quality team. When defining roles and responsibilities—a crucial step—make sure everyone is on the same page about their potential to contribute to a quality product. (I believe this awareness of quality across all positions is what quality auditors are looking for.)

Finally, support your processes and people with the right information for them to do their work and understand the larger process they are part of. 

When leaders ensure their people are well-trained, clear on their roles and responsibilities, and have the information they need to make decisions, they grant their people greater autonomy. They are transitioning from a top-down to a bottom-up decision-making process. This is a key way to grow employee engagement and satisfaction while improving "controlled" autonomy and speed.

Choosing the right technology

Year by year, the pace of business in the CPG industry accelerates; today’s pace will seem slow tomorrow. In this environment, people, processes, and information cannot hope to come together in meaningful, actionable ways without the right technology. 

Technology is the great enabler. But when considering technology options, some companies are overly focused on the newest solutions and latest trends. AI is in the headlines daily, but if we consider it closely, its new capabilities might provide only 10 percent or less of company value. IT infrastructure, another highly visible technological component, provides only 20 percent. Surprisingly, 70 percent comes from the entirety of digital transformation, which in itself is a long, committed journey. 

What’s needed today is a unified, cloud-based system of quality data management and communication. This system must support your processes and people with the right information, regardless of where they are in the organization or in the physical space. Implemented properly, it can help companies break out of siloed, inefficient approaches, like tracking data in spreadsheets or disparate legacy systems.

Estée Lauder is a strong example of a company that recently succeeded in transforming its approach to quality. The company wasn't interested in improving quality via a new tool or metric; instead, it wanted to initiate a company-wide project to instill a culture of continuous improvement with quality as the backbone. This cultural overhaul would extend to its products as well as to its internal workplaces and processes. Their solution was to establish an Equity and Engagement Center of Excellence to drive continuous improvement and performance for the company. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Unilever wanted to take a more technical route and increase quality by improving the structure, clarity, and accessibility of data within the company. To achieve this, Unilever partnered with Veeva to establish a single quality platform to unify the entire company. The more a company's data is connected in a centralized structure, the easier it is for employees to access it, and the quicker they can make data-informed decisions. With information embedded in the production process, Unilever is better able to make a quality product the first time around, minimizing waste and expediting time to market. 

How to implement quality at your company

Here are a few best practices for business leaders striving to improve quality at their own companies. 

  1. To really embrace what quality looks like in a CPG company, think outside of quality itself. Quality must serve the production output. When you arrive at the production process, do it well the first time. Processes should be set up to ensure consistency. Otherwise, you waste time investigating, resetting production, and other laborious activities. The goal is not necessarily to produce the best possible product, which might be too expensive. Rather, the goal is to produce the best possible quality vis-à-vis expectations. 
  2. Make it easy for production to achieve quality. When I was in Quality, I always asked my teams to do their best to make things easier for the production teams to achieve the right level of quality. When going through the manufacturing processes, the fewer SOPs and inspection procedures you have, the better. Being small and efficient allows you to be agile.
  3. Keep your approach simple. When you use your toothbrush, you do not think about the toothbrush; you simply brush your teeth. Your technology solutions should work the same way–they become invisible when working well. This is what you should expect from modern technology, and it is the kind of solutions Veeva provides.

Your enterprise is an edifice constructed of many individual building blocks. Veeva's technological solutions can be the mortar that holds it all together. Our technology connects people and processes and makes them stronger, ensuring consistent quality across all facets of the business.

Get in touch today to find out how we can help you. 


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