5.4.4 What kind of quality tools can I use in my company?

Complex tools – for advanced users
Quality tools are intended to support us taking the above steps and can be useful in each phase of the innovation process, namely in:

  • creating the organizational conditions for innovations to be developed
  • supervising and initiating innovation processes
  • producing innovation content, i.e. discussing and evaluating the innovative ideas and concepts, then developing those ideas in details that are positively judged
  • implementing innovations in the primary processes of the organization

In Table 2 you can find an overview of the quality tools most commonly used in the distinct phases of innovation. It is highly recommended that you use all of them if you are running several complex innovation projects in project teams. The tools are also categorized by different quality concepts.

Table 2: Quality tools with a supportive function to innovation processes1

In Table 2 you can see that benchmarking programmes2, i.e. searching for innovations already developed by others in order to copy or adapt them, can be relevant when you already have an idea about the innovation you are going to carry out.

At this point you can also train your employees if they are lacking the knowledge or skills necessary for the specific innovation process. Before starting the innovation and after you have completed it – especially in case of organizational innovations – employee satisfaction should be measured by means of anonymous questionnaires. In a small company you can simply talk to the staff in an informal context about their satisfaction with the organization in general, and with their tasks and duties.

Customer satisfaction surveys can help in determining what customers expect from you and from your products, services. However, if you are not willing to satisfy your existing customers for any reasons (due to the lack of resources, or for moral reasons, etc.), you can still find a new target group whose ideas are better in line with yours. Once you have conducted the survey, you will be sufficiently informed to be able to decide properly about the clients and their needs.

Formalized quality management systems (e.g. ISO standards) as tools are mainly useful in the last phase of innovation, when you are implementing innovation results in the primary processes of the organization. In this phase you should not spare time from reviewing what you have achieved. To be able to measure your achievements you need proper and measurable (quantitative) indicators defined at the beginning of the process.

The plan-do-check-act (PDCA) model as well as process management can and should be applied throughout the whole process of innovation. The PDCA model is described in EYESORE 9001:A Smartass’s Guide to ISO 9001:20083 in the following way:

  • Procrastinate: Stop and think before you do anything stupid. But wait a really long time before doing it. Make the boss think you are one of those geniuses who “needs his space”
  • DOH!: Okay, now go ahead and do something...
  • Crap: Uh-oh, you did something stupid. Better see what you did wrong.
  • Ass-cover: Good going, Sherlock, now fix your mistakes and go back to the Proscratinate step and cover your ass. Hopefully you’ll get it right next time.

Try to find out the meaning and goal of the PDCA model if the above described “model” is regarded as a smart satire. Do you think it should be carried out once or regularly during one process?

Quality strategy development, quality planning, policy deployment and goal stretching are all relevant techniques contributing to the creation of the innovation context, i.e. determining which innovations the company, as well as other stakeholders, such as the government or the public, need. For further information on strategy development and quality planning, refer to Chapter 7: Strategic Quality Management in Quality Planning & Analysis4.

Do you use any of the above quality tools to plan, supervise, and initiate innovation processes or to produce innovation content?

The Seven Basic Tools of Quality5 - for basic users

In case you are not going to invest in complex procedures, you can still use several easy tools for the support of quality improvement.

The Seven Basic Tools of Quality, namely the Ishikawa diagram, check sheet, control chart, histogram, Pareto chart, scatter diagram and stratification are all graphical techniques helpful in troubleshooting issues related to quality. Find a short explanation to the most frequently used easy tools below.

The Ishikawa diagram can be used when you are not sure about the main cause(s) of a certain event, failure, problem in a process of the organization. Causes are grouped into most commonly inspected, bigger categories, such as:

Figure 1: Ishikawa diagram

source: www.bourqueai.com

  • People: Any person involved in the process
  • Methods: policies, procedures, rules, and laws
  • Machines: Equipment, computers, tools needed
  • Materials: Any materials used for the job
  • Environment: Conditions of the process (location, time, temperature, and culture).

After outlining the main causes you can count the frequency of occurrence and detect the most common causes – the root causes – of the problems.

To detect the causes of a problem you can ask questions and answer them in brainstorming sessions until you reach at the level of root causes, i.e. the core cause of a problem within the company.

See examples for an imaginary brainstorming on the category “People” below: Do the employees have enough experience in performing the tasks? if not, why? Is it caused by the improper selection of staff, or the lack of training? Is it clear for everyone what is expected from them? If not, why? Is it due to the insufficient communication, the lack of meetings, the lack of clear sharing of tasks, etc.?

The check sheet
is a blank sheet used for collecting quality-related data in a simple way. It helps you detect the main defects and their occurrence; therefore you can make corrective actions based on factual data.

Figure 2: Check sheet

The histogram
represents a frequency distribution by rectangles: the widths represent class intervals and the areas are proportional to the frequencies.
You can use a histogram to measure data - for instance - on the late arrival of employees. The widths then represent length of time of the delay in intervals (in minutes), while the frequency of a certain delay interval is shown on the vertical axis. If figure 3 showed the result of this survey, we could claim that the majority of employees arrive between 6,5 and 7,5 minutes late.

Figure 3: Histogram source: www2.mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/acon

The Pareto chart contains both bars and a line graph, and it is used for assessing the most frequently occurring defects. The Pareto chart in Figure 4 can represent, for instance, the frequency of the reasons for late arrival – to stay with our example above. The left vertical axis is the frequency of occurrence, while the right one is the cumulative percentage of the total number of occurrences. Group A, B, C, etc. represent the reasons (e.g. traffic, overslept, family problems, etc.) in decreasing order. The red line shows that in order to lower the amount of late arrival by 80%, it is sufficient to eliminate the three most frequent reasons.

 Figure 4: Pareto chart source: download.oracle.com

Have you ever used any of the described tools? Try to use them in your daily work together with other management tools.


1 Bossink, 2002, p. 13
2 Please see component 5.3: Benchmarking process in this guide for more details.
3 Oxebridge Quality Resources International LLC., 2010, p. 5
4 Gyrna, 2001, pp. 163-187
5 You can find more information on the Seven Basic Tools of Quality at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Basic_Tools_of_Quality