Modern Ad Agency (MAA) had been in business for about 10 years. It had a strong regional reputation, and counted divisions of five Fortune 500 firms among its clients. Michael Newberg, co-founder and president, had built the firm on a foundation of client focus, adherence to a quality system, and rapid response.
One of their largest customers, a Fortune 500 consumer products company, required compliance to jointly developed protocols and a mature quality management system, but not to registration under ISO. A documented system was in place, and Newberg chaired an active steering committee. Members were department heads, including the quality manager, and the union president. System upgrades were made on a routine basis. However, this valued customer, Mega products Inc., had missed a scheduled launch date for a new, potentially important mega-product because of miscommunications with MAA’s project team and faulty ad copy, which had to be revised after being sent to the printer. These problems could have been prevented if MAA’s protocols had been followed and required quality checks had been performed.
Time was a factor because noncompliant product had been reaching the customer despite MAA’s assurances that protocols were being followed. Much of the documentation had been written by the quality manager and edited by the president. Review by managers and supervisors, who were asked to implement applicable elements in their departments, was minimal. Consequently, many of the procedures and instructions did not reflect work realities. They depicted an ideal and were ultimately challenged as supervisors and process operators tried to implement them. But, since the clock was ticking and Mega products was threatening to cancel orders, implementation proceeded with promises of a complete quality management system revision once improvements were in place.
Making the quality system operable was chaotic. Managers, not wanting to appear unsure of their changed responsibilities and authority, clung to the status quo. Training—when done—focused on lower level employees, which left supervisors without a good understanding of new requirements. They were caught saying one thing but doing another. Interfaces between departments and individuals, although described in an organizational chart and statements of authority and responsibility, were not truly functional. System workflow faltered because new relationships and interdependencies encountered old departmental barriers. Audit reports and corrective actions languished because the president periodically overrode the quality manager’s authority, fearing delivery promises might be compromised. However, early implementation steps were handled well. Gaps and shortfalls were identified, and proposed solutions recommended. But, because of time, it was assumed that acceptance and adoption would be automatic. Steering committee members rationalized that everyone knew what needed to be done because solution finding had been such a fervent effort. However, like many improvement projects, concluding steps were inadequately thought through and poorly managed. Proposed solutions were not completely integrated into daily activities.
Eventually the Steering Committee realized that they lacked a comprehensive plan that would make system changes truly operational. The Committee understood that this created indecision at supervisory levels, plus inadequate coordination and dissatisfaction by those trying to make the changes workable. They saw that first-line design project managers, writers, and artists were trying to maintain a sense of order and get their work done by falling back on customary routines. Amazingly, their “stopgap” actions allowed them to get some of the Mega products projects back on schedule, but they realized that they must go back to the drawing board to develop a comprehensive plan. Time was running out.
- What Misakes did Newberg and the Steering Committee make in the initial development of the protocols and documentation and the early implementation stage?
- What were the early indications that the system was not working as planned, and why were they ignored? Why weren’t improvement efforts more effective?
- What steps should be taken to revise and implement an improved organizational structure and quality management system?
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