A quality management system (QMS) is a collection of business processes and procedures which aims to ensure that the quality of products or services meets - or exceeds - customer expectations. Such systems are typically repeatable and measurable, and rely on the concept of continuous improvement.
ISO 9001 is an example of a quality management system.
Types of quality management systems
There are many different types of quality management systems, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the most common ones are:
- Standardised systems - these rely on established standards and follow agreed codes and regulations. Examples include ISO certifications such as ISO 9001. To pass the ISO standards, a business needs to satisfy all the requirements relating to quality and documentation, as well as audits. ISO certification is voluntary for most businesses. However, it may be a legal or contractual requirement in certain sectors and industries. See more on quality management standards.
- Total quality management - TQM is a management framework that relies on continuous, organisation-wide efforts to ensure long-term customer loyalty and success. It places a strong focus on process measurement and controls as means of continuous improvement. See more on TQM.
- Continuous quality improvement - this system, also known as CQI, focuses on continual incremental improvements, rather than processes and functions. The emphasis is on teams and individuals, and their importance in ensuring the quality of products and services. One of the most popular continuous improvement tools is a four-step quality model, the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. See more on CQI.
- Six Sigma - this is a data-driven methodology that focuses on process improvement. Under this approach, the processes are defined, measured, analysed, improved and controlled to achieve maximum quality. See more on Six Sigma.
Core elements of quality management systems
At their core, most quality systems will have several key elements:
- quality policy
- quality objectives
- quality manual
- quality procedures, instructions, and records
- document control
- organisational structure and responsibilities
- data management
- customer satisfaction
- continuous improvement
Put together, these elements make up a system which defines expectations, responsibilities and actions needed to achieve the expected quality of products or services.
Find out more about the advantages of quality management systems.
Which quality management system to choose?
Choosing the right quality system depends on the needs of your business. Your business will have a unique set of products, goals, values and quality objectives, therefore certain quality systems may suit better than others.
An ideal quality management system should be easy to integrate and use, it should meet the desired quality standards and demonstrate compliance with policies, procedures etc. It should also be flexible enough to change and adapt as your processes improve.
In most cases, you can tailor any quality management approach to satisfy the specific needs of your business. See how to implement a quality management system.