How to Make Supplier Quality Management Initiatives a Reality

January 23, 2012

By Sparta Editorial


Companies today are facing an increasingly competitive market place. New geographies, new regulations, and new products are just some of the challenges companies have to deal with; all of which adds up to rapid change, and where there is rapid change there are new opportunities as well as new threats. To be successful, companies need to be in the best competitive position possible, and for many leading companies this means differentiating with quality management solutions and infusing quality as a way of life throughout the organization. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be as easy as it used to be. Delivering a product to market today requires a complex and distributed value chain; involving many different companies all with different responsibilities, including: engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, customer service, compliance and more. In such an environment, quality management has been forced to move beyond just the four walls of the plant or the quality department itself. Suppliers and customers now need to be brought into the fold and this can only be accomplished if companies take specific steps in how they manage their people, business processes, and technology.


Leading companies take quality seriously and it starts right at the executive level. Executives set the tone and a passion for quality should flow throughout the organization. Leading companies also believe in collaboration and communication. Quality is not viewed as a department but a shared responsibility that everyone takes pride in. Finally, there is a general belief in leading companies that the continuous improvement process is important, valuable, and a key factor in the success of the organization. These companies are not satisfied and are always looking for ways to get better.

Business Process

Improved quality is often about improved decision making, and making better decisions does not happen by accident. Leading companies have invested in the systems that help them standardize business processes so that the right information is delivered to the right decision makers at the right time. In the spirit of continuous improvement, these processes are also designed to be flexible so that as new best practices emerge the processes can evolve as well. Finally, companies should not be forced to continually reinvent the wheel. It is often the best approach to use automated workflow and alerting tools to build these processes, which is discussed more in the next section.


To help support all of these quality initiatives across the organization, more companies than ever are deploying Enterprise Quality Management (EQMS) to help harmonize systems and manage data centrally. This creates a single view of the truth and allows all parts of the organization to have a clear picture of quality in the organization. In regards to supplier management, top performing companies are also extending EQMS to include Supplier Quality Management (SQM). These systems allow companies to do more than just tradition supplier ratings or the collection of supplier test data; they provide web-based portals and collaboration tools to allow the real-time exchange of information between parties. Ultimately, creating a stronger relationship between companies and improving overall supply chain quality. Which all sounds well and good but does leave one big question?

Will Suppliers Agree?

We often get the question:

“I get it that SQM this will help us gain a better understanding of our supplier’s quality but will they agree to provide me this level of detailed information?”

This is a valid and often very important question to the overall success of a supplier quality management initiative. In our experience, the response of a supplier can be mixed and it usually all comes down to trust and personal relationships. If the supplier does not trust the usually larger and more powerful retailer or brand owner then the initiative is in jeopardy from the start. However, if there is trust, and the supplier believes such an initiative is not just cost cutting but will help improve performance and create more of a collaborative partnership, the initiative is usually well received. So, from our perspective, suppliers will agree if it is positioned correctly. But of course, with all relationships that depend on trust and personal connections, starting small and building on past success is usually the best approach.

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