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Last edited 18 Oct 2021
Quality management systems (QMS) - beyond the documentation
For many organisations, the quality management system (QMS) exists to save money. For others it provides assurance that its systems are robust and meet a set of formal requirements or regulations. It does this through:
- defining planned and controlled ways in which activities are to be undertaken
- providing assurance that these ways are being followed and, where they are not, redefining those ways or advising staff
- reducing or redefining all activities that do not contribute positively to the effective working of the business
- providing the atmosphere in which success can happen.
- In other words, a QMS is the formal, often documented, foundation to the way in which a business operates.
 The cultural paradigm
The formal management system only provides the basic foundation on which a QMS is built. To be more realistic, to make it happen, it is necessary to set in place a paradigm for the business that welcomes quality as one of the normalities of life. The diagram below, which was derived by Johnson and Scholes (1) shows the elements that frequently form the paradigm of a working environment.
- The paradigm is the set of assumptions about the organisation which is held in common and taken for granted in the organisation
- The routine ways in which members of the organisation behave towards each other and that link different parts of the organisation. These are the ‘way we do things around here’ which at their best lubricate the working of the organisation, and may provide a distinctive and beneficial organisational competency. However, they can also represent a taken-for-grantedness about how things should happen which is extremely difficult to change and highly protective of core assumptions in the paradigm that has been in place for many years. In the worst case, they can be detrimental to the operation of the business.
- The rituals of organisational life, such as training programmes, promotion and assessment, point to what is important in the organisation, reinforce ‘the way we do things around here’ and signal what is especially valued.
- The stories told by members of the organisation to each other, to outsiders, to new recruits and so on, embed the present in its organisational history and flag up important events and personalities, as well as those who ‘deviate from the norm’. These often set in place the routines, which they reinforce.
- Other symbolic aspects of organisations such as logos, offices, cars, parking spaces and titles; or the type of language and terminology commonly used. These symbols become a short-hand representation of the nature of the organisation. It is extraordinary how important these are.
- The formalised control systems, measurements and reward systems that monitor and therefore emphasise what is important in the organisation and focus attention and activity. Audit, orders from above and the general command and control structure form part of these.
- Power structures are also likely to be associated with the key constructs of the paradigm. The most powerful managerial groupings in the organisation are likely to be the ones most associated with core assumptions and beliefs about what is important. They may not accord with the formal organisational structures described below but are on the basis of ‘I know who to talk to in order to get this sorted’.
- In turn the formal organisational structure, or the more informal ways in which the organisations work are likely to reflect power structures and, again, delineate important relationships and emphasise what is important in the organisation.
Concentration to date within management systems, especially those defined by ISO 9001 and before, has focussed mainly upon two aspects, the formal organisational structure and the formalised control systems. However, it is in the other aspects of the paradigm that the strength of the management system lies and it is this that the top management will need to direct attention. Transformation is in the paradigm as a whole, not just in a set of documents.
Taking each of these elements of the paradigm individually:
 Routine Ways
Throughout life, everybody builds up patterns of behaviour, known as gestalts. These are organised patterns that are built up from various experiences, both good and bad. They lead us to react in certain ways when faced with specific contexts. Going to work is such a context, such that the pattern of behaviour that we adopt at the start of a period of employment is likely to continue, and be reinforced, with time. It is quite difficult to re-educate a long-held gestalt. Think how strange it is when an office move-around happens. Nothing is where it used to be and the paths that we used to follow from one part of the building to another have changed. Many of the gestalts that arose in childhood will affect the adult throughout life and may well be brought into the workplace. Each of us has a different set of gestalts for work, home and down the pub with friends. Part of the transaction into a QMS is to plot the organisational gestalts, so that a judgement can be made as to which should be retained and which altered through training and use.
These are ways in which the organisation helps to generate a desired paradigm through training and other forms of communication. Some of these will occur on a regular basis, such as weekly or fortnightly team meetings. Clearly, functional managers will need to consider which rituals will work best for imparting the quality message. Rituals are probably one of the prime ways in which transformation can be achieved.
These are perhaps the most insidious of all the elements. They can be enormously destructive, as they can be rumours, opinions and often unsubstantiated statements. Many will be only partly true; some complete fabrication. Some, however, will be very positive. It is vital that the rituals, in particular, as well as everyday conversation, present an appropriate view, whilst scotching any incorrect impressions, so as to generate good stories. Some stories have become embedded into the very fabric of the organisation. In the days when drinking at lunchtime was the norm, it was advisable to approach a certain senior member of staff before lunch if you wanted to have a document signed.
 Symbolic Aspects
It is unlikely that there will be any changes to an organisation’s existing logos, although there is a place for a symbol of some sort or another that is connected to the QMS. Sometimes, a specific typeface or document style can be used to emphasise a brand or a specific set of procedural documentation. Sometimes, ‘Quality’ is spelt with an upper case Q to lift it out of the page. Getting the symbol correct is very important: Coca-Cola became ‘bite the wax tadpole’ when it was first translated into Chinese, and which Spaniard would buy a car called ‘no va’? There is also a need to look at the other symbols within the business, including those related to rank and success, to see how they can be leveraged.
These can also be thought of as influence structures. Within any business, there are people with greater influence than they would appear to have from their position in the formal organisational structure. This is often through social, as well as business, connections. It is vital to know how these power structures operate, both up and down the organisation tree and to take them into account, especially where they form an impact on rituals and stories.
Writing a suitable amount of documentation that informs staff at an appropriate level of the work that they are expected to complete. The amount and depth of the documentation will depend on the competence of the persons undertaking that work, based on education, experience, skill and training. In other words, there must be a balance between the information provided and the capability of the staff-member to complete the work successfully. This may need to be adjusted with time, as there is invariably a desire to document everything, so that a large folder remains untouched and unloved on the top of a bookshelf.
The cultural web is not consistent across the business. There will be the enthusiasts, often from the quality fraternity, on the one hand and those who will have no truck with it at all. It is important to recall that the existing cultural web is taken for granted; it is how life continues today. In transition, it is vital to determine the state of each of the elements, so that the starting point for transition can be defined. There are several ways of doing this:
The most effective way of understanding how staff-members feel is to listen to them. Simply engaging in conversation casually, enquiring how they feel and getting to know people will elicit valuable information. Top management should spend time visiting offices and sites regularly to talk with staff. These should not be royal visits, but relaxed. It might help if top managers were to brief themselves with personal information, such as birthdays, marriages, new arrivals in families, anniversaries and other successes.
 Formal Analyses
There are several forms of analysis that can be successfully used. These include surveys, questionnaires and, in particular, the Kano Analysis that helps to identify what is important to people and what excites them. Survey Monkey and other tools can be used to gather information without staff disclosing their identities.
Formal management system audit provides an opportunity for management to enquire into the way in which the business is operating. Audit must be carried out against a set of criteria against which success can be judged. However, it should not be used as a baton to inflict fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD management), but should provide a platform for the auditor to listen (that word again) and to understand where staff-members have issues, especially with the processes that have been defined.
- Stories There could be views of leadership style, ‘characters’ in the business and ‘how things have changed since when we joined.
- Organisational Structures This could contain descriptions of the formal organogram, the domain and operational centre organisations and how they work and the structure of the functions.
- Symbols These can be both symbols that the organisation holds dear, such as logos and symbols that are awarded to people by dint of rank or achievement.
These can then be summarised to provide a description of the business as an effective provider of materials, items and services, as well as pointing out those areas where improvement could be made. The results of the mapping can then be fed back into the documentation, so as to clarify any misunderstandings and rectify any failures in description.
This approach is in accordance with the requirements of ISO 9001 which requires that an organisation considers the ‘context’ in which it is operating, internal and external, and assesses the issues that it faces. The term ‘issues’ means anything that could impact on the business, based on an assessment of the level of risk that each of these issues present to the organisation. Note that this is not just what used to be called quality management, but the whole business. Top management are required to set in place a management system that will militate against the identified risks from coming to fruition. The management system can include health & safety, the environment, energy management, information security and so forth; in other words, management of the business. Whether or not all or part of this management system is submitted for audit by a registration body is a matter of decision by top management but is a demonstration of conformance and not a goal in itself.
As in all transition projects, preventing staff-members from drifting into a condition where they are unaware of what is happening will be highly detrimental to the success of the business. In particular, it will help to engender unhelpful stories as change occurs. Communication should take place through:
- Formal training
- Email (as they are now)
- Toolbox talks
- Discussion with staff
- Advice centres
- Being around
Socialisation is the process whereby people learn from each other. It allows them to acquire and internalise the skills necessary to become a member of a particular society. As a child, this will be the family; at work, it will be the organisation in its widest sense that hires.
In sociology, there has always been a major debate over whether biology or culture has the greatest effect on human behaviour. In most animals, biology is the great and possibly only influencer, but the human animal is so influenced by the society in which he or she lives that it is probably the one differentiating factor that has allowed humans to learn how to dominate over the rest of nature.
This learning ability has been adapted by modern human society to inculcate the social mores and, in the case of organisations, accepted moral behaviour. To make the transition from one culture to another, therefore, is nothing less than ‘productive processing of interior and exterior realities. Bodily and mental qualities and traits constitute a person's inner reality; the circumstances of the social and physical environment embody the external reality’.
 From Wikipedia:
Moreland and Levine identify five stages of socialisation which mark this transition: investigation, socialisation, maintenance, re-socialisation, and remembrance. During each stage, the individual and the group evaluate each other which leads to an increase or decrease in commitment to socialisation. This socialisation pushes the individual from prospective, new, full, marginal, and ex member.
 Stage 1: Investigation
This stage is marked by a cautious search for information. The individual compares groups in order to determine which one will fulfil their needs (reconnaissance), while the group estimates the value of the potential member (recruitment). The end of this stage is marked by entry to the group, whereby the group asks the individual to join and they accept the offer. Note that new joiners will have used the on-boarding process to undertake reconnaissance, whilst interviewers will have used recruitment to select the most appropriate candidate, especially while each decide if they will ‘fit in’.
 Stage 2: Socialisation
Now that the individual has moved from prospective member to new member, they must accept the group’s culture. At this stage, the individual accepts the group’s norms, values, and perspectives (assimilation), and the group adapts to fit the new member’s needs (accommodation). The acceptance transition point is then reached and the individual becomes a full member. However, this transition can be delayed if the individual or the group reacts negatively. For example, the individual may react cautiously or misinterpret other members’ reactions if they believe that they will be treated differently as a newcomer.
The initial stages of socialisation can be satisfied by pre-empting with training and other forms of communication. It should be recognised that those who are not provided with information will investigate and will potentially be the sources of stories, as was discussed above. The training will need to explain the behaviours that are acceptable, as well as where more information can be found. This means explaining the changes in the processes as they affect staff-members and to demonstrate where the documented procedures may be found. Further reinforcement through audit and simply being around will be needed. The ambassadors at the Olympic Games in London provided an invaluable information-providing service which almost certainly helped to moderate any tendency for visitors to behave in unacceptable ways. The objective of this initial stage is to place the person in the position where they not only accept the new ways or working, but also embrace them as the new paradigm, the set of gestalts that define how the business runs. This is known as internalisation, in which the desired behaviours now become the norm for life.
 Stage 3: Maintenance
During this stage, the individual and the group negotiate what contribution is expected of members (role negotiation). While many members remain in this stage until the end of their membership, some individuals are not satisfied with their role in the group or fail to meet the group’s expectations (divergence). This is a part of employment where messages can be used to reinforce the paradigm and to correct any misunderstandings that may have arisen.
If the divergence point is reached, the former full member takes on the role of a marginal member and must be re-socialised. There are two possible outcomes of re-socialisation: differences are resolved and the individual becomes a full member again (convergence), or the group expels the individual or the individual decides to leave (exit).
 Stage 5: Remembrance
In this stage, former members reminisce about their memories of the group, and make sense of their recent departure. If the group reaches a consensus on their reasons for departure, conclusions about the overall experience of the group become part of the group’s tradition.” Many stories develop during this period, some of which will reinforce the paradigm. This can be a block to further continuous improvement. Others will form part of the organisation’s war stories and will be regaled at social events such as dinners and pub visits.
Three major aspects have to be planned carefully:
- The context of the transition, before and after change
- The way in which the socialisation will take place
- The results of the change
The plans for these three aspects must be considered against the background of the projected outcome of the change, the approach that the change mechanism is to take place and confidence that the end result will benefit not to the organisation, but also staff at all levels.
Defining processes and documenting them where appropriate is a comparatively simple task. It needs to be based around what people are doing now and encouraged to be moved towards one single way of working. Developing the procedures will require some serious amalgamation of experience between quality staff and other staff. This will allow quality staff to facilitate, guide and write so as to reduce the impact on the time and effort of the organisation to the minimum needed to develop a robust and effective management system. Quality staff can also help to develop an appropriate paradigm through working directly within the projects and central organisations, as well as providing more formal training and other forms of communication. A suitable and appropriate programme of socialisation must be planned and implemented with sensitivity. Finally, top management must take a proactive role in planning, implementing and operating the Quality Management System.
1. ISBN-1405887338 Johnson, Scholes and Whittington, ‘Exploring Corporate Strategy’ 8th edition (2007) Financial Times/ Prentice Hall
This article was originally written by Keith Hamlyn on behalf of the CQI Construction Special Interest Group, reviewed by members of the Competency Working Group and approved for publication by the Steering Committee on 23 November 2019.
--ConSIG CWG 12:44, 14 Jan 2020 (BST)
- Construction quality management guide.
- Design documentation.
- Design quality for buildings.
- Digital quality management in construction.
- ISO 9001.
- Pareto analysis.
- Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA).
- Project quality plan.
- Quality assurance.
- Quality control.
- Quality in construction projects.
- Quality manuals and quality plans.
- Quality management systems.
- Standard operating procedure.
- Supplier assessment.
- Third party accreditation.
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