What comes to mind when you hear of coffee grown and processed in Kenya, clothes made in Turkey or cars made in Germany? I am certain that it is the quality of the product or service.

Quality can be described as the degree of excellence. From improving processes, systems, products and services to making sure that the whole organisation is fit and effective, managing quality effectively enhances an organisation’s potential for success. Quality is central to a country’s brand and reputation. It protects organisations against risks, increases their efficiency, boosts profits and makes them sustainable.

On the other hand, failures in quality resulting from poor governance, ineffective assurance and resistance to change can have dire consequences for businesses. Many will remember the reputational crises endured by BP resulting from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010, and VW emission cheating scandal of 2015. Both companies are dealing with the ramifications to date. The fallout could have been avoided through effective management of the quality of outputs. 

Quality is not just about disaster prevention, but also achieving great results. Today, it is more important than any other time to match one’s services and products to the needs of their customer. As the international business environment becomes increasingly competitive, customers are more and more demanding and discerning about quality.

For products, customers look for performance, durability, reliability, conformance, serviceability, aesthetics, safety and after-sales service. For services, they expect timeliness, consistency, courtesy, accessibility, responsiveness, convenience, completeness and accuracy, among others.

The adoption of ISO 9001: Quality Management Systems (QMS) therefore should be a strategic decision to ensure delivery of service and/or product that meets customer requirements. QMS is about understanding the current and future needs and expectations of the customers, then designing and developing products and services which meet them.

We should continually put a spotlight on the first principle of QMS - customer focus. Although an organisation or business has many stakeholders, customers are the most important. Customer focus is the responsibility of all employees, not just a department or the chief executive.

The other principles of QMS are leadership, employee engagement, process approach, continuous improvement, evidence-based decision making and relationship management. Organisations which have implemented QMS manage risks and comply with statutory and regulatory obligations, which is a requirement of the international standard.

Available data shows that countries with the highest QMS certifications have a positive reputation, thus creating confidence in their products, resulting in higher sales and economic growth. According to an International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) Survey of Management Systems Certifications 2019, the leading three countries with QMS certifications in the world are China (280,386), Italy (95,812) and Germany (47,868) with Trade Export Ratings of “1”, “8” and “3” respectively. In Africa, South Africa leads the pack in ISO 9001: QMS certifications with 3,464, Egypt with 2,271 while Kenya has only 442.

Locally, initial uptake of QMS by the public sector was due to Performance Contract Target requirements. Today, both the private and public sectors implement QMS. Notable public sector organisations include the National Social Security Fund while the private sector is led by Safaricom. Makueni County has already initiated the training process.

Degree of excellence

To support MSME growth, in 2019, Kebs initiated Kenya Quality Award for MSMEs aiming to recognise those implementing QMS. A key challenge to instilling the culture of quality in Kenya is that procurement of products and services is sometimes driven by the cost, not the degree of excellence. Additionally, there are low awareness levels and minimal uptake of training in quality.

To promote quality management competence, Kebs in collaboration with Kenya Accountants and Secretaries National Examinations Board are at the initial stages of developing a professional certification programme for quality practitioners, the first of its kind in the region. Kebs through the National Quality Institute holds free quarterly QMS and Food Safety seminars to create awareness and raise uptake of the practical application of standards in this sector.

Leaders in organisations must walk the quality talk, particularly in the Covid-19 era in order to create customer value and ensure business continuity.

Dr Mutuku is Head of the National Quality Institute at Kebs

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