10 Essential tips for a Great QMS #3 Set SMART Objectives

SMART Objectives

ISO 9001 requires top management to establish quality objectives throughout their organization. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of quality management to which many pay scant regard - taking the easy way out with a few hastily penned statements that are neither very challenging, or offer much reward.

The smart organization can use this ISO requirement as a foundation stone of a great quality system. How? By closely linking them to the organization’s true mission and strategy, and making sure that they follow smart principles. This will bring focus to the quality system, and help integrate it into the business in general. So, let’s take a look at setting some smart quality objectives.

At the simplest level, an objective is a statement of a specific, desired outcome. However, to be of real value, there needs to be a little structure and discipline around the planning of objectives, and the monitoring of progress towards achieving them.

Explaining Smart Objectives

While not explicitly specified by ISO 9001, the concept of SMART objectives is a very useful guideline to follow. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timed.

S - Specific - The objective should be focused on only just one thing

M - Measurable - It should be possible to measure whether or not you achieve the objective

A - Attainable - The objective should be within your capabilities

R - Relevant - The objective should be something of importance

T - Timed - There should be a timescale or deadline for achievement of the objective

There are some possible variations on this theme. For example, the 'R' can be used to denote 'Realistic'. We consider that topic is already covered by 'Attainable', so prefer the definition listed above.

An objective should be focused on one Specific thing. It should clearly state what you are expecting to achieve. A good tip here is to include an 'Action' verb - and only one. It should be made clear who has overall ownership or responsibility for ensuring achievement.

Objectives should be Measurable. That way, we have something definite to aim for, and can clearly establish whether we have achieved the objective. In most cases, we should be able to track progress as we work towards the objective. Before setting an objective, we need to know the current situation, and might have to obtain some form of data or statistics to establish that.

Some organizations put generic objectives in their quality policy or manual e.g. 'we will offer the fastest delivery possible' and back that up with something more precise e.g. 'Over the next 12 months, we will deliver 95% of orders within 48 hours'. These measurable objectives are sometimes referred to as targets.

Objectives should be Attainable - after all, there is little value in setting targets that cannot be reached. While some may consider that inspirational, the inevitable failure to hit the target may cause loss of morale and commitment to any future targets that are set.

Objectives should be Relevant. Ask yourself this question...Would anyone really care if we met the target or not? If the answer is no, then perhaps the objective doesn't warrant setting in the first place. Just like other aspects of the quality system, your objectives should be relevant to the needs and expectations of the organization and interested parties – like your customers. An objective of delivering a certain percentage of orders within a defined time span could certainly be expected to be of interest to customers!

Objectives should be Time-based e.g. they will be achieved on a consistent or average basis over a period of time, or there is a definite end-date for achievement.

Before setting an objective, we need to know what the current situation is – and we might have to obtain some form of data or statistics to establish that. We might consider where the best opportunities are for improvement. Using the Pareto Principle (or 80:20) rule, we could prioritise our efforts to where the greatest benefit may be achieved. The various individuals or business units may be given different objectives that reflect their scope for improvement.

In view of the above, an example might be that we have become aware of customer concern about deliveries not always being on time. We may have learnt that from a customer survey or perhaps just from anecdotal evidence. Taking on board the customer concern, we may decide to undertake a sampling of our current delivery performance. This will give us a benchmark on which to base any improvement initiatives. If an examination of current delivery performance reveals that on average we deliver 90% of orders within 48 hours, rather than arbitrarily setting a target of say improving to 95% by the end of this year, we might look at what improvement is realistically possible.

Improvement initiatives might include a 'Cause and effect' analysis to establish what causes the late deliveries, and perhaps do some brainstorming to establish what improvement actions can be taken. It may then be possible to get a clearer idea of what can be achieved by them. Having looked at all the contributory factors, we might only realistically expect to hit 93% this year. What we have started to do here is to establish a SMART objective.

50 sample management system objectives...

Software solution to manage your Objectives

QMS Objective Planning and progress monitoring can be monitored as part of a QMS or IMS with Qudos3 Software. Its powerful Objectives module includes the following facilities:

  • Facilitate compliance with the objective planning requirements of ISO 9001 and many other management system standards
  • Objectives Register with search / filter facilities
  • Plan business objectives and attach related documents (in any Windows format)
  • Prioritise objectives using a balanced scorecard (Fields for Finance/Customer/Process improvement/Learning & growth OR user-definable alternatives)
  • Attach related documents (in any Windows format)
  • Record progress towards achieving objectives
  • Plan, Implement, and track multiple action plans
  • Use password-protected locks to secure records
  • Print individual records, lists, or custom reports
  • Export or Email individual records, lists, or custom reports in a variety of formats including PDF, DOC, XLS, and various image formats
  • Objective owners are advised of current objectives in a periodic reminder email
  • Add Notes in a wiki with automated emails to Objective owner
  • Sample objective planning procedure with shortcut facility for easy reference

Check out the Qudos3 web page for more information.

eBook – 10 essential tips for a great quality management system

eBook 10 essential tips for a great quality management system

This article is adapted from our eBook ‘10 essential tips for a great quality management system’. The full eBook may be purchased as a Kindle book from Amazon.

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