The new year has come, and I’m comfortably in the groove with the new company. I’m in a break between contracts, but the prospects are still good. Most of the administrative overhead necessary to keep the company running is complete, so at this point I’m looking at ways of improving my company, either through process, material, or opportunity.
I still haven’t ventured past my main line of revenue at this point, and probably won’t until I start making profit (I’m still catching up from start-up expenses). But I now have more freedom to expand within my current work. I’ve taken some of that time to get some continuing education credits from training I get to select and I’m looking into getting a PMP certification.
As it’s still a one-man company, I am rather limited in the ways I can expand. I’ve come to realize that a growing company needs a minimum number of people that can work off of each other to challenge each other and provide some needed back-up. I wasn’t thinking this way a few months ago, but I’m likely looking at getting some employees within the year. I just have to figure out who… I’m sure selecting employees will be the subject of a future newsletter.
The other real issue with a one-man company is establishment of a quality program. I’m relegated to working under a prime contractor’s quality program since it’s technically impossible to stand up such a program with only one role and not independence. This is a pretty big issue for me, so that’s why it’s the subject of today’s newsletter.
I never really thought about what it takes to establish and implement a Quality Program, other than it’s expensive. This isn’t surprising given the number of procedures, manuals, forms, etc. that are needed. As well as the training, personnel, and roles and responsibilities to be filled. Add to that an extra level of scrutiny if you’re trying to establish a program that conforms to some recognized industry standard.
It’s no surprise that only larger companies establish standards based quality programs and get certified, as they have the corporate structure and overhead capital to throw into a large quality program development project. That really puts smaller companies at a severe disadvantage in a standards regulated industry, such as the nuclear industry, pharmaceutical industry, or other similarly regulated profession.But I want to put that on its head for a moment. What if a small company wanted to endeavor to create a quality program without all of that overhead at their disposal? What is really needed? I’m going to break this up into two phases: establishment and implementation.
What is needed to establish a quality program? I think it might be hard to answer that question if you really think about it. My brainstorming has resulted in these (likely incomplete) steps.
And you’re done! Technically, there is a quality program established. The fact that no work is being performed under it, nobody has audited it, there is no-one available to staff it… These are all concerns in terms of implementation, but not necessary to be able to claim that you have a quality program established.
This all seems surmountable by a single person that has long experience with quality programs. I would estimate you could probably put this together in three man-months. So why aren’t there more companies putting together these programs? Simply said, dedicating the sort of person that has this kind of experience for three months is usually a non-starter. Also, everyone wants to get involved, which really slows down the whole process. And this is why generating these programs gets expensive. Before you know it, you have ten authors, disparate thoughts, and a large and complex program.
But I have nobody else to get in my way. And I can dedicate myself to this task if I so choose, and I would claim that I have the requisite experience. So, I’m probably in a good place to create the program manual and procedures. There are other small companies that could likely take a similar approach if they were willing to dedicate the right resource.
That’s all well and good, but how are you ever going to be able to implement this program with one person? Well – you can’t. At least not for any quality program worth anything. There would have to be some independence and definition of roles and responsibilities that would preclude a single person from wearing every hat. That does put a one-man show in a pickle, but not a company that has access to a minimum amount of resources (people) as employees or contractors which could provide the necessary roles.
Now that we have a Program and access to a minimum number of people, what are the next steps?
This is where we have to talk about the real elephant in the room. Why would a client believe a four-person company that said it had an NQA-1 program? It’s a trick question. They wouldn’t. This is another hurdle a small company has to overcome – the concept that only large companies could possible do work per a quality program. To combat that pre-conception, there has to be objective evidence that the program has been implemented. It’s not ideal, and some leaps of faith will have to be taken by courageous clients at first, but as momentum builds, it will be easier to show compliance with the necessary requirements. Of course assuming that good discipline is used in executing the program.
Ultimately the purpose of this episode of rambling is to work through creating a quality program when you only have one employee. We touched on this briefly in certain areas. Firstly, that one person has to be the sole author of the Manual and Procedures (and templates if required). It would be ideal if that person could find another person to review that work, as everything is better when reviewed by someone with appropriate expertise. Secondly, that person has to be able to access personnel to staff projects and train them under the newly developed program. Thirdly, that person has to convince a client to take a chance on a fledgling quality program run very differently than most of the industry. Fourthly, that one person has to maintain the program and training for the company so that the necessary resources with the correct training can be available as needed so the program can actually be utilized.
That’s a lot of stuff to do, but at a minimum, the first step can be accomplished “in the margins” with little risk other than expenditure in personal time, minor expenses in supplies and standards, and learning way too much about quality control. The timeline is really the wild card. The rest of the steps will be situation dependent, and beyond the scope of this discussion.
If you’re starting a quality program from scratch, you have the option of thinking forward and taking advantage of the clean slate. I’ve seen a number of quality programs and often thought that some forethought on the following items could have made a much more robust and enduring program.
Obviously, whether some or all of the opportunities are used will be dependent on application and company, but these are items I’ve often wondered why they weren’t considered during generation of quality programs.
I felt the need to come up with something catchy to match the theme of the newsletter. Ultimately a quality program does not ensure that you are right, just that you’ve taken steps to minimize the chances that you did not do what was intended. So judging the quality of a project is less about the ultimate result, but rather about the process.
Quality is what you do, not the result.