In the workplace, cultures of quality are far more complex than promising assurances, warranties, and customer service helplines. Truly effective and compelling characteristics of quality culture include:
- Continuous feedback
- Comprehensive change management
- End-to-end professionalism
- Agile test-driven development
- Quality and customer assurance
Keep reading to learn more about how cultures of quality are created, enriched, and maintained for the benefit of both the companies themselves and the clients they serve. We’ll share our own experiences developing a culture of quality at Sentient Digital, doing business as Sentient Digital, Inc. including the benefits of ISO 9001 certification to assist with quality improvement.
The Importance of Quality Culture
In an increasingly saturated and globalized market, competitive pipelines have forced businesses across industries into cutting corners with compressed cycle times and flimsy deliverables. According to the Harvard Business Review, “just as companies’ margin for error has decreased, the likelihood of error has risen.”
The cultural narratives concerning defects, recalls, and corporate apologies are growing threadbare as consumers become progressively disillusioned. Now, more than ever, companies must turn to holistic, end-to-end quality transformations rather than one-off patches and mitigation campaigns that solve problems retroactively.
“Quality” is often deployed as an adjective to promote specific goods and services. But quality can—and should—extend far beyond isolated use cases. Companies should actively strive to transform quality into a cultural touchstone shared between managers, employees, and clients.
“As a technology solutions provider, a culture of quality is an essential differentiator from competitors,” affirms Matt Hampton, our Project Management Office (PMO) Manager. “Quality solutions and results are often difficult to find in the defense space, so establishing a culture of quality is a great avenue to growth.”
Understanding how to cultivate quality behaviors, mindsets, and practices within in-house teams can help ensure that you build growth and capitalize on latent opportunities in far more sustainable ways.
The Key Characteristics of Quality Culture
A true culture of quality becomes so deeply embedded as to be indiscernible from otherwise day-to-day operations. No single individual can create quality on their own—whole entities, groups, and company departments are responsible for bolstering and maintaining quality standards. The key characteristics of quality culture are as follows.
“We focus on enabling feedback and ideas at all levels of the department,” says Hampton. “This results in increased engagement as well as mutual understanding in various facets of our efforts.”
Giving and receiving feedback empowers employees to bring constructive suggestions to the table, effectively lowering engagement barriers when it comes to project development and improvement. The more diverse voices and insights being lent to a specific initiative, the more likely it is that quality will begin to emerge in that endeavor.
Interpersonal feedback leads to quality as well, and using that feedback to enrich employee talent pools is exceptionally important. Read about how the SFIA framework bolsters internal faculties that lead to resilience, cultural improvement, and the effective use of interpersonal resources.
Comprehensive Change Management
Change in the workplace can often feel disjointed and unsettling. Unfortunately, quality is usually one of the first casualties in the race to alleviate compromised efficiency during periods of company upheaval, staff turnover, or software transformation.
Comprehensive change management ensures that both quality and stability go hand in hand. Effective management practices ensure that the details—whether critical or minor—are never sacrificed or lost during the transition process.
Quality facilities end-to-end professionalism. From the very inception of a project up to its delivery deadline, quality should define every rung in the development process.
“You need to be able to clearly communicate a culture of quality in every external interaction. Outward or client-facing communication must have quality in mind. Formality of interaction is a first critical step, along with a focus on how a product, communication, or deliverable is presented to the client,” asserts Arthur Zepf, our Program Manager.
“Even though a draft document is not complete and may lack information, there are still components of the deliverable that should maintain a high level of quality,” Zepf continues. “There should be no glaring formatting, cosmetics, or functional non-conformities when submitting to a client.”
Agile Test-Driven Development
Inevitably, tight delivery pipelines in competitive markets will often prioritize continual innovation over retroactive quality control for existing offerings. That’s why the theory of maintaining continual evaluative standards has proven absolutely integral to the promotion of cultures of quality.
The concept of test-driven development (TDD) applies to far more than the realm of software production. The principles behind TDD lay the groundwork for a widely applicable strategy that promotes constant assessment, testing, and calibration throughout the development process.
TDD finds the value in “failure” as a starting place for strengthening quality. When accounting for the risks associated with any given project, true agility embraces the process as continuous, improvement-driven, and ever-evolving.
Quality and Customer Assurance
The stakes for service providers have never have never been higher, according to Zepf. “We operate in an environment where a client’s tolerance of quality problems is non-existent. We have an opportunity to seize an advantage above other organizations if we embrace quality as absolutely integral.”
“I’ve had many debates about the quality of a product, but it always goes back to a happy customer,” agrees Alex Radka, our Engineering Manager. When test-driven development and other strategies fail to identify lapses in quality during the production process, customer assurance services exist to quickly and efficiently remediate difficulties after they become apparent.
Cultures of quality highlight present problems rather than burying or camouflaging them. Issues may be successfully dealt with only after they are actively acknowledged by customer assurance task forces. However cultures of quality may operate internally, client-facing quality assurance is the ultimate culmination of these ideals and practices.
Developing Internal and External Cultures of Quality
How are the characteristics of quality culture actually put into practice? The following four tactics can help organizations develop a culture of quality.
Quality Through Dedicated Leadership
Leading by example, company leadership can reinforce holistic quality ideals. Corporate management should always exhibit an end-to-end commitment to maintaining quality in their own professional attitudes and affairs. This increases the chances of collective buy-in among employees and teams.
Moreover, setting material standards for quality management (often in conjunction with other staff members and department leads) will help better overall quality assessment in the workplace. These may include concrete evaluative metrics, surveys, or performance incentives.
While solely material incentives for improvement may provide increased short-term efficiency (thus inflating the effects of these campaigns), contemporary research shows that they ultimately produce stunted long-term results that aren’t representative of sustainable growth.
“A true culture of quality is an environment wherein employees follow all quality guidelines, but they also consistently experience ‘quality’ all around them by witnessing others and helping others take quality-focused actions,” affirms Zepf. Interpersonal accountability and support are vital quality-building tools.
Orchestrating Cycles of Improvement
Drawing from the quality characteristics pertaining to feedback and customer assurance, Radka references the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” or “a philosophy of continuous improvement [that] provides an approach to engage the people who do the work to quickly identify and implement rapid improvement opportunities.”
Cycles of improvement operate both vertically and horizontally. They move to address problems systematically from the bottom up, while also working toward meeting lateral long-term goals with broader scope.
Enriching Employee Ownership
Adopting “cradle-to-grave” approaches to project management enriches an employee’s sense of responsibility to the initiatives placed under their jurisdiction. Employees are able to better cultivate a deep sense of ownership from a project’s ideological conception, to its delivery to the customer.
“Employees only care about quality when they have ‘ownership’ of their actions and know that every time they do anything for the company, they are only adding to or they are detracting from the quality of the organization,” says Zepf. Quality ideals should be embedded during employee onboarding and encouraged every day of employment thereafter.
The Benefits of ISO 9001 Certification Program to Promote Quality Culture
Because true cultures of quality are so deeply embedded within company operations and relationships, it can often be difficult to evaluate such systems with precision and specificity. Enhancing an organization’s ability to articulate the ways in which they have achieved exceptional quality in the workplace is among the many benefits of ISO 9001 certification.
ISO 9001 is a part of the ISO 9000 family set forth by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a worldwide leader in global innovation and solution-building. According to recent numbers, ISO 9001 certifications have been issued to “over one million companies and organizations in over 170 countries” thus far.
9001 is the only international standard for quality management systems (QMSs) that requires external certification. It’s an entirely scalable and intersectional methodology that publicly signals a company’s intensive working dedication to consistently improve its products and services over a sustained period of time.
Earlier this year, Sentient Digital underwent the thorough evaluation and auditing processes that led to the acquisition of our ISO 9001 certification. We want to show our clients and stakeholders that our commitment to quality and customer satisfaction runs deeper than mere business. It’s a living core tenet of our organization that we are proud to uphold.
Interested organizations should follow these clear-cut guidelines to receive ISO 9001 certification.
Sentient Digital’s Quality Solutions
As the technology solutions industry continues to expedite its products to keep up with an ever-evolving digital infrastructure, it’s increasingly important to uplift the standards of quality that may otherwise be sacrificed along the road to addressing critical IT problems. Now, more than ever, entrenched cultures of quality are necessary to uphold longevity and client trust within our industry.
With the many benefits of ISO 9001 certification to reinforce our innate dedication to providing top-notch services, Sentient Digital, is proud to uphold the characteristics of quality culture in all of our endeavors and departments. We provide quality technology services for defense, federal, and commercial clients.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your organization thrive. Or if you’re a technology professional looking to join a company culture of quality, read about starting a career at Sentient Digital.