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QMS: Implementing Accountability and Consistency in Your Agribusiness

Based on my own experiences, here’s something about the business environment I absolutely believe to be true: 95% of errors are not due to negligence by the employee or manager but are a result of the lack of a standardized process related to a task and its outcome.

That’s why a thorough, thoughtful and consensus-based quality management system (QMS) is an absolute necessity for any business – including agribusiness – to ensure accountability and consistency across and within divisions.

When someone is hired into an organization, he/she often learns a position’s specific duties and expectations by “business osmosis” – attending employee orientation, talking to others about what’s expected, reviewing previous employees’ work output, etc. But this sort of employee training does not necessarily address quality nor outline a standardized approach to achieving quality.

What a QMS does is establish, monitor and track uniform processes toward an expected outcome or product. It is “a formalized system that documents processes, procedures and responsibilities for achieving quality,” according to ASQ, an organization that provides expertise, tools and solutions to help entities improve their products, services and experiences through quality-focused approaches and systems. An effective QMS will aid a business in meeting customer expectations, regulatory requirements and employee satisfaction to continually improve effectiveness and efficiency.

Quality management has a long history in industrialized America of creating standards to control product and outcome. As more people had to work together to produce results – and to recreate the same results every time – best practices were needed to ensure consistency. As these best practices were documented by companies, they became the accepted standards within an industry sector. Today, quality standards encompass more than how a product is created or how a service is delivered (the outputs); standards for quality are also established – and expected by consumers – for a business’s core values and administrative operations, such as transparency and sustainability.

During my 30 years at Monsanto, we implemented QMS across the seed business when this agribusiness leader purchased numerous seed companies. The QMS was a harmonization tool as many of these individual companies were doing the same things with very high standards of quality but utilizing different protocols. The QMS empowered a now-unified company and its employees to continue performing at the highest levels toward a quality output with consistency and uniformity. This was and continues to be a key to Monsanto’s successful mergers.

The most successful QMS approaches require consensus among division leaders to create buy-in at the employee level. At Monsanto and later at RiceTec, the QMS development effort I led depended on input from others. I engaged teammates by physically putting us in a room identifying the best practices within each action box on the business flowchart. We charted the entire process from concept and design through operations and determined new harmonized best practices. This was a bottom-up process of solicited input from employees in that area creating new best practices for a quality workplace and a quality output emphasizing measured process improvement. This bottom-up approach created ownership throughout the organization as we know ownership is key to acceptance and implementation across the company.

How do you know when it’s time for your agribusiness to implement QMS? Ask yourself if you feel like a fireman who is constantly putting out fires; if so, it would behoove you to consider QMS. I believe you’ll find, as I did, that implementing QMS will give your company’s leadership and frontline employees the structure they desire toward a quality output. Everyone will be on the same page, knowing the flow of the business, their role in this process and the anticipated outcomes that will result.

I liken QMS to the white lines along a roadway: they keep us on the straight and narrow and out of the ditch by providing a sight line to follow. I’ve heard others refer to QMS as keeping the General Patton or John Wayne (strong personalities) decisions from de-railing sound business: no one is going rogue. QMS is an internal checks-and-balance system within and across various departments that creates an accountable business culture based on internal auditing and helps your company deliver on its value proposition to the consumer. QMS simply insures “we do what we say we do.”

It won’t be easy. Some individual teammates will baulk; some entire divisions will posit that their area of expertise doesn’t lend itself to standardization. It is not uncommon among a research group to experience push back. Imagine my surprise! Of all the business silos, I expected the R&D group to have the most rigid processes and practices already in place for replication of experimentation. Instead, some researchers felt standardization would limit their freedom to explore and to discover. Through collaboration and open dialogue, we all realized how non-standardization leaves quality and results up for grabs. Standardization doesn’t quell creativity and innovation; it certifies the validity and value of the output.

The executive resources at Finding Black Ink have the career experiences needed to aid agribusiness owners with the development and implementation of a quality management system (QMS). The core philosophies that guide Finding Black Ink’s experts align with the factors today’s business owners consider daily: objectivity, creativity, integrity, collaboration and market understanding. With Finding Black Ink, you’ll find a fresh and beneficial perspective on achieving your business’ priorities.

Want Alan’s insights on quality management systems? Reach him here.

About Alan D. Ostercamp

Alan’s 44 years in agribusiness have included leadership roles influencing growth, market share and profitability at giants of the seed industry such as RiceTec Inc., Os’Gold and Monsanto. One of his greatest achievements was the harmonization of the many business platforms purchased by Monsanto through the creation and implementation of an ISO 9001 best practices quality management system. That QMS model was then successfully replicated with the startup of mechanized hybrid rice specialty, which innovated production rice agriculture without the benefit of a long institutional history or memory. Alan has served on the American Seed Trade Association Board of Directors, as past president of the Iowa Seed Association and was a member of the AOSCA Plant Review Board and Iowa Crop Improvement Board.

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