Quality Excellence Begins with Strategic Quality Planning


Organizations today face a continuous barrage of requests to improve quality. They may throw front-line staff into quality training workshops in the hope that this will improve the management of quality. Or management may decide to attend quality management workshops to become acquainted with the latest strategy; exposing themselves to Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Process Management, and Quality Awards and so on. Yet somehow quality still remains an issue.

How do you know if your quality initiatives are the right ones? Do you select these based on the latest “fad” or perhaps an article you read? Do you know what the problem is that you were trying to fix? Strategic Quality Planning is a process that quality departments, quality managers and quality professionals undertake in their organizations to identify the “right” quality initiatives to best manage quality today and on into the future.

The development of a strategic quality plan is the key to determining the right quality initiatives for your organization. Without it, you’ll just move from one fad to the next. To get started, create a team of quality professionals who are responsible for ensuring the delivery of quality products and services to the organization’s customers. Some members of this strategic quality planning team might not be involved in the day-to-day responsibility of managing quality. Rather, they are impacted by quality and therefore have an important stake in the successful outcome of the strategic quality plan. If there is only one person designated with the responsibility for quality within the organization, they will need to create a team of individuals who have some responsibility for the management of quality within their own jobs.

The Strategic Quality Planning Process

The Strategic Quality Planning process consists of two phases:

  1. The Research Phase which includes everything required to collect and analyze the data required before strategic quality planning can begin.
  2. The Strategy Phase which includes all of the steps required to develop the strategic quality plan.

Research Phase

Review the Organizational Strategic Plan
Every quality management initiative can, and must be tied to key business process performance indicators in order to have any real impact on productivity and the bottom-line. However, Strategic Plans are rarely translated into the quality strategies needed to ensure overall performance improvement gains.

The first task of the Strategic Quality Planning team is to examine the Strategic Plan and to identify and become familiar with all of the identified corporate strategies. They must ensure the quality strategies they develop align with and support the realization of these corporate strategies.

Identify the Organizational Quality Initiatives
The Strategic Quality Planning team will spend time analyzing all of the various quality initiatives that their organization has used in the past as well as continuing to use in the present. For example, has the organization used or continuing to use Kaizen? Reengineering? Cost of Quality? Quality Function Deployment? Six Sigma? Lean? Quality Awards? (Such as Canada Awards for Excellence, Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, etc.) Or Project management?

Questions they must ask include; What have we used before? What was successful and wasn’t successful? Why were some of these initiatives successful and others not? What can we learn from this so that we can increase the likelihood of reducing those things that prevented success and increase those factors that have created success?

They will often find, through this analysis, that some quality initiatives were abandoned because it was the wrong time, the wrong culture, the wrong expectations and so on. It may have had nothing to do with the actual quality initiative. Therefore they may want to consider using them again. Just because there is a lot of literature on a particular quality endeavour doesn’t mean that it or isn’t right for them.

Understand the Voice of the Customer
Organizational and customer requirements are the factors that will drive Strategic Quality Plans. The quality strategies must address the organizational needs. They must also address the customer needs. The Strategic Quality Planning process ensures these two are aligned.

Customer satisfaction results can be used to identify problems and opportunities, measure the performance of managers, executives and employees and reveal relative competitive performance. These can be obtained through customer surveys, interviews, etc. The results will help drive the right Quality Strategies which will in turn help drive new product and service development, manufacturing quality, product and service delivery and competitive positioning.

Customer satisfaction levels are impossible to assess unless customer’s expectations, priorities and needs have been determined. That is why this Voice of the Customer process is so critical.

Engage the Employees Through Feedback
It is essential to involve employees in the development of the quality strategies. Employee’s input will:
Provide insight into issues, challenges, concerns, and opportunities which may not have been known.
Ensure their “buy-in” during the Strategic Implementation Stage which will link the Quality Strategy Development into Action Plans.

Conduct Benchmarking
We often miss the opportunity to go outside our organization to learn what others are doing so that we can incorporate these lessons learned into the development of our quality strategies. Benchmarking is highly beneficial and helps provide the Strategic Quality Planning team with ideas on how to improve their internal quality processes, products, processes, structures, etc.

Strategy Phase

Create the Quality Vision
Creating a compelling vision of quality and developing the strategies to achieve it is one of the Strategic Quality Planning team’s most difficult challenges. In this complex and ever-changing world, anticipating the future can be very difficult. The problems of organizations are increasingly complex. There are so many ironies, polarities, dichotomies, dualities, ambivalence, paradoxes, confusions, contradictions, contraries and messes for organizations to understand and deal with. This complexity explains why many Strategic Quality Planning teams are more comfortable focusing on clear, short-term goals than on uncertain, long-term visions.

But failing to anticipate the organization’s and its customer’s future needs could put you at risk of losing business to competitors who do anticipate these needs and are able to fulfill them. The team must understand both present needs and future considerations so that they can position their organization, through the implementation of appropriate quality strategies, to fulfill those needs. This is why the understanding of customer’s and employee’s needs, wants and desires is so critical to understand before a vision can be created. The Benchmarking will have provided ideas on what the “best of the best” have done which will help shape the future for your organization and department.

Develop the Quality Policy
The “ideal future” has been created through the visioning process. Before moving directly into the development of the Quality Strategies, the Strategic Quality Planning team will develop and/or update their Quality Policy. This policy will clarify the overall goal, mandate, objective, etc. for quality.

The quality policy should be a brief statement that shows a commitment to quality. One reason for creating and deploying a quality policy for the organization is to ensure that all employees are aware of, aligned with and support the organization’s intent with regard to quality management.

Identify the Quality Strategies
The quality policy should be a brief statement that shows a commitment to quality. One reason for creating and deploying a quality policy for the organization is to ensure that all employees are aware of, aligned with and support the organization’s intent with regard to quality management.

Develop the Operational Effectiveness Plan
The Operational Effectiveness Plan starts with the development of Objectives required to meet each Quality Strategy. It follows with the development of detailed Action Plans required to meet these objectives. Performance measures will be added to ensure that it is clear when each strategy and related objective has been met.


The Strategic Quality Planning process will move your organization from making assumptions about quality towards the clear quality directions founded on well researched quality strategies. This in turn will take your organization successfully into the future.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca