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Quality Control (QC) is an aspect of logistics management that is rarely applied, partially applied or completely ignored. More so in emergencies where speed of delivery over-shadows aspects or activities that would otherwise provide checks and balances in a sector that already has so much at stake.
For the purpose of the LOG, simple aspects of QC are highlighted to provide basic knowledge that can be applied in emergency situations. In an emergency situation, it is not practical to initiate complex, involving quality control processes. Some organisations are likely to already have institutional specific QC processes in place.
Why quality management is important in humanitarian activities and humanitarian logistics:
These systems assist in ensuring professional and high quality service delivery, leading to improved outcomes/less suffering for beneficiaries.
Quality Control (QC)
1. The operational techniques and activities that sustain the product or service quality to specified requirements.
2. The use of such techniques and activities.
3. Operations intended for the assessment of the quality of products at any stage of processing or distribution .
4. Part of quality assurance intended to verify that components and systems correspond to predetermined requirements.
“Planned and systematic action that is necessary to provide adequate confidence that a product or service will satisfy given requirements for quality.” (IFRC)
It can be distinguished from QC in that quality improvement is the purposeful change of a process to improve the reliability of achieving an outcome.
In the humanitarian context it is sometimes defined as:
"the minimum level of performance that fulfils a requirement." (Concern)
"…..the compliance with the technical specifications initially elaborated during the needs assessment." (Action Contre la Faim)
QC is therefore the process of ensuring that products/services required are received as is prescribed, in a timely, cost effective and efficient manner, through the application of well established systems and procedures. A QC system will therefore also measure whether standard operating procedures are in place, that they operated effectively and were strictly adhered to.
Some terminologies that are commonly used in relation to quality are: performance, compliance, standards, specification and conformity.
Logistics QC (LQC) is by no means a measure of quantitative throughput or output. Nor is it intended to set-up competition between different operating logistics functions, but a mechanism that ensures that needs are satisfactorily met.
Inevitably, at the onset of an emergency, some systems may not function well. Certain operational procedures may be absent. Clearly, LQC has implications for efficiency, cost effectiveness and output. Where all standard logistics procedures are shown to be operating correctly, there is less likelihood of waste or delay. LQC allows the logistics officer to quickly identify areas for immediate attention. The periodic running of LQC will allow the Logistics officer to maintain his/her operation efficiently and to avoid the erosion of standards.
Nature of quality control
QC is cross cutting through the entire logistics function. It enhances efficiency, effectiveness, and differentiation throughout. There are three related areas of focus for value creation:
Quality Control Tools
Formulation of a QC Process
The evolution of a QC process, is a movement through four distinct
phases with notable characteristics:
2. Quality Assurance (QA). A greater emphasis on achieving user/user satisfaction through user/user-driven quality characterises. This is the shift from QC to QA:
3. Total Quality Management (TQM). All stake holders, i.e. management, suppliers, users/users and employees all aligned and working together towards a common goal and ensuring quality service provision. It would cover monitoring of all aspects of management, staff, users/users satisfaction, systems implementation, adherence to processes and procedures and supplier performance. The above characterise the evolution to TQM.
4. User Value. User value reflects the need to do things that create the best competitive net value for the eser.
Quality Control Cycle
Systems and processes are a part of QC. QC is used in developing systems that ensure that goods and services delivered meet or exceed user expectations. It not only verifies the delivery of good quality but also identifies gaps and failures that need to be addressed.
Diagram 1: Quality Control cycle
Management system refers to what the organization does to manage its processes, or activities, so that its products or services meet the objectives it has set itself, such as:
Management system standards
Management system standards provide a model to follow in setting up and operating a management system. This model incorporates the features on which experts in the field have reached a consensus as being the international state of the art.
Implementing a Quality Control System
Application in Humanitarian Logistics
Set the parameters or bench mark
This process is initiated when users place requests for products or services. When submitting a request, the requester of a product has to provide the logistician with the technical specifications.
Note: different standards will apply for different products or services. For products on international markets, international standards define most of the requirements. Within the humanitarian community, there are specific relief standards set for commonly used products. Some common sources are the sphere book, interagency set-ups or organisational specific catalogues.
See Standards in the Annexes for more information.
Importance of the technical specifications:
Quality control sheet
When working on the technical specifications, the requester should provide exhaustive information on the services or products required.
QC sheets are used to specify areas of focus and in conjunction with tools that measure performance or compliance against set parameters. Questionnaire and check-lists are some of the simple but effective QC tools. They are user friendly and can be used manually or electronically. Below is an example of a simple electronic tool.
Such a tool may be contained in an MS Excel file. The worksheets contain a series of topic-specific questions related to logistics aspects such as, warehousing, fleet, procurement and customs clearances and a graphic representation of the results is generated automatically from answers to questions on preceding pages.
How to use the questionnaire or check-list worksheets:
Select the appropriate worksheet and answer the questions by clicking in the relevant box (use the mouse or arrow keys to navigate from one box to another); enter any letter (Y, N, X, etc.) in the designated box.
Select only one of the boxes: 'YES', 'NO' or 'PARTIALLY' according to the following definitions:
Example, a Warehouse Worksheet may ask:
"Are bin cards issued and filled correctly, recording all info?"
System information guide
Only one box must be selected for each question. Care must be taken when inputting the answers as the spreadsheets have not been automated to prevent double entries; e.g., answering both YES and PARTIALLY for the same question. Nor will it indicate when the answer to a question has been omitted. On completion of each page double-check that every question has been answered and only one box has been checked.
The questions are not weighted: each carries the same value as the others on the sheet.
In an excel format, as the questions are answered, a percentage is automatically calculated for each sub-group on the right-hand side of the worksheet. Similarly, a total performance figure will be calculated on the bottom right-hand side of each worksheet; these totals are represented automatically in graphic form on the final worksheet.
As the tool is used over time, it is important that changes in procedure are reflected in the QC system. Similarly, weaknesses in systems that are highlighted by the QC process should be corrected by procedural changes. Feedback is provided through periodic management reports. (See attached electronic version)
Along with the use of tools, the logistician must remember key things required in the normal logistics processes that support a QC system. Some examples:
Diagram 2: Quality system process
To download the diagram, 'right click' on it and then choose 'Save Image As' from the menu OR go to Annexes.
Throughout the process demonstrated in the diagram above, numerous documents are generated. These documents support an efficient QC system. One example is the user request. See below some quality control guides for selected products. The information can be found in the user request.
Sample Quality Control Guide for Products
The technical specifications should at least define:
When feasible, the logistician will request a sample from the various potential suppliers and will evaluate the quality with the technical officers.
Fertilizers or pesticides
The logistician must refer to the FAO guidelines for storage and transportation to prevent accidents.
The following criteria must be taken into consideration for the quality control of seeds:
This refers to whether there are parasites and/or diseases in or on the seeds, or with them.
Note: when time is limited and does not allow a laboratory analysis a field germination test is the minimal precaution to guarantee an acceptable quality.
From a logistics the point to note is that pharmaceuticals have preset standards and are or should be certified before they are purchased. Some key things to verify when receiving pharmaceuticals are:
Procedures for the quality control: the respective unit should work closely with the logistics department and submit a well documented request providing:
In cases where products are being manufactured specifically for an organisation on request, it is imperative to contract an inspection company or laboratory to test for quality compliance and ensure that the testing is in conformity with all customs requirements of the country or region where the product is destined.
The success of a tool or a quality system is dependent on the following:
This topic provides a basic understanding of QC. QC should be applied across all logistics and supply chain activities. Carefully selected QC criteria are a vital management tool which enables an organisation to monitor and evaluate performance and thus sustain continuous improvement. QC data also provides the metrics essential to providing justification for staffing and funding.
Applying and improving quality management provides benefits such as reduced costs, shorter lead times, the right products being received, timely delivery of services, etc for the logistician and internal users and leads to improved outcomes/reduced suffering for beneficiaries through x,y,z.
It is important to maintain management attention on quality in order to continuously improve the delivery of humanitarian support to the affected communities.
IFRC Logistics Training - Logistics Quality Control, Robeson, J.F., & Copacino W,C., The Logistics Handbook, The Free Press (1994)
Action contre La Faim
Concern World Wide
World Health Organisation
International Organization for Standardization
Lean Six Sigma that Works, Bill Carreira and Bill Trudell, AMACOM