Operations management and quality control systems are often seen as magic, but the reality is it’s just that most scarce commodity – common sense!

Basic operations

A basic operation has the following elements:

  • Inputs are materials, labour, or information
  • The process might be manual, technological, chemical or verbal
  • The Outputs might be finished goods; a completed phone call or inputs for the next process.

Many businesses function at this level for their entire operational life, and some do it very well. But many have high error rates, low efficiency, and low profitability and return on investment. Why is that? Because a crucial element is missing: Feedback.

Feedback allows the system to self-correct or be corrected and ensures errors are eradicated as quickly as possible.


Let’s look at this simply by examining your breakfast…
Input: Could be bacon, eggs, bread, and equipment
Process: Will be labour, time, heat energy, oil and technique
Output: will be a happy and full breakfaster! Able to survive the rigours of the day.

A typical process could be: You’ve put the bacon in the pan, and two minutes later that delicious looking rasher is now sitting in a lake of saltwater and is about a quarter of the size you started out with. If you continue without activating feedback, the output may leave the end-user very unsatisfied and grumpy, and considering alternatives.

Apply feedback from the process stage: what went wrong? The heat was right, time was right, the pan was right, oil was right, the operator was sufficiently trained, so clearly there is an issue at the earlier stage –the input stage. Note: Always start at the beginning – don’t fix symptoms, fix causes.

So we examine the stage: what are the parameters for input to avoid the failure in the process?

1) The bacon must be dry cured
2) It must come from a reputable supplier
3) It must not be date expired
4) The packaging seal must be unbroken (if supplied sealed)
5) The size and thickness of the slices must be adequate to sustain pan cooking (minimum 2mm thickness, no more than 30% fat by area)

We now have an input supply specification we can take to a variety of suppliers, asking for quotes and details of their guarantees and supply terms.

The process is run again: This time the output is full-sized bacon, but the end result is somewhat black and carbonised bacon and leathery fried eggs. The end-user is still unhappy and now even more likely to consider alternative suppliers.

So from the results, we examine the stage – we know the inputs are correct now. So we need to double-check: Was the heat correct? The pan the right size and shape? Was the operator sufficiently trained? Was the correct technique used? The right cooking duration? Correct lubrication? This feedback guides the process redevelopment.

We identify the parameters:

1. The pan must be clean at the start of the process, and the non-stick surface in good condition.
2. The oil must be high flash, low odour, cooking oil from a reputable supplier.
3. The temperature should be set at the recommended level. For delicate operations, a thermocouple should be used to double-check the appliance setting.
4. The operator requires a minimum of 4 hours of training.
5. Full H & S training and start-up checklists must be used.
6. Process time should be evaluated case by case using visual and manual processes. Compare the appearance of the product to wall charts of ideal bacon and eggs and manual turning of the bacon to examine all surfaces for consistency of appearance.
7. Once repeatability of quality is obtained – ideal cooking times and heat settings can be established and the operators trained.

We now have a suitable product to present to the stage – where the customer or end-user takes delivery of the product. At this point we need to consider:

1. Presentation of the product – use layout charts, pictures of the ideal presentation etc to train staff in the presentation.
2. Plate pre-heating to ensure consistency of temperature at delivery.
3. Duration of “wait” between cooking and serving to ensure optimum quality.
4. Cleanliness of plates, cutlery and eating surfaces.
5. Provision of accessories- salt, pepper, bread and butter.
6. After-sales quality and satisfaction check – were all the customer’s needs met?
7. Invoicing process and payment process (quality work should be rewarded).
8. Training of staff and operators to standard operating procedures (SOP) to ensure consistency of quality delivery.
9. Frequent focus group or customer feedback sessions to ensure satisfaction levels are maintained and future needs discovered.

Quality process

If you can do all that – you are well on the way towards an ISO level quality process and you will streamline and future-proof your business whether it’s a breakfast bar, engineering works, or builder.

Whatever your industry, analyse each stage of your process, use flow charts to make it visual. Work out where the “quality points” are, what the key parameters of success are. You can easily train staff to do their own QA. Remember, feedback must create remedial action!