Principles of Quality Management

Optimization through quality management provides producers with the framework to reach new levels of profitability.

By Stephanie Rutten-Ramos

As margins continue to squeeze pork producers, optimization holds the key to improving profitability. Optimization is the condition where the system is operated at its best. In many ways, the phase-segregated nature of swine production is designed for suboptimization, the opposite of optimization. We’ve established local targets and local rewards that pit one phase against another. For example, a sow unit might be recognized for the number of pigs it produces—but not the quality of those pigs. And many of the substandard pigs received at the nursery will be unable to meet the criteria required for them to move on to the finishing phase. As a result, the highly productive sow unit will cause the nursery to operate with higher mortality and poorer feed conversion.

Likewise, the nursery manager who is incentivized to keep mortality low is prone to carry “free pigs”—the weaned pigs accepted from but not credited to the sow unit on account of quality—and/or pass substandard pigs along to the finisher. Both come at an expense to the system. So, although the individual phases find ways to improve their local performance, they do so at the expense of the system as a whole. And as a result, they create a state of suboptimization.

Framework for Improvement

While there are no exact recipes on how to optimize, other industries have achieved success through quality management. Quality management offers a framework for improvement through the reduction of waste and development of organizational characteristics designed to eliminate internally competing interests. There are eight Principles of Quality Management as identified by ISO 9000:2000. Following is a short description of each.

1 Customer focus: Attention to the needs of customers both internally (i.e., nurseries and finishers) and externally (i.e., packer) eliminates waste in a production system.
2 Leadership: From the perspective of production systems, management is responsible for day-to-day decisions and implementing programs and procedures, but leadership institutes change. And the success of the production system to incorporate lasting change is a function of its culture.
3 Involvement of people: For a long-lasting change to occur, it needs to be incorporated into the organization’s culture (its stated and unstated values). To develop a culture of pride in work and workplace, for example, leadership would initiate programs for site and facility maintenance and upkeep. Likewise, for a production system to successfully optimize, leadership must create a culture of optimization.
4 Process approach: The segregated nature of our industry pits one phase against another. That is, what is good for the sow unit is not necessarily in the best interest of the nursery and/or the finisher. However, a process approach considers the best interests of the entire system.
5 System approach to management: System optimization holds tremendous potential for improving profitability. However, efforts to optimize will prove futile over the long run if an organization is unwilling or unable to implement lasting change. By assuming a system approach to management, an organization is better situated to recognize root causes of problems and the effects of local interventions on the outcome of other areas, i.e., weaning age. As well, organizations with a system perspective are able to avoid assignment of blame to individuals with little or no ability to control the surrounding circumstances. While we are accustomed to thinking that performance is “all about the people,” the principles of quality management suggest that performance can and should be designed into the system.
6 Continuous improvement: Organizations and farms need to pursue improvements in order to attain and maintain their competitive advantages. Continuous improvement may be pursued through any number of routes, ranging from the use of a suggestion box, to the use of consultants, to the use of highly structured programs such as Six Sigma.
7 Factual approach to decision making: All processes have inherent variation. No doubt, the biological nature of the pig contributes to variation as well. However, with all that variation, it becomes challenging to determine when real changes occur. Variation is classified according to its cause. The use of data allows producers to identify real changes, including potential causes and effects. Further, by understanding the types of variation within production, a system can set realistic expectations for performance.
8 Mutually beneficial supplier relationships: Pork production is characterized by both internal suppliers (i.e., sow farms and nurseries) and external suppliers (i.e., feed manufacturer). Anyone who has worked in a pig barn understands the importance of quality inputs. After all, it’s nearly impossible to restore quality once it has been lost. So, although the principles of quality management do not offer a direct explanation of how to achieve optimization, it is reasonable to conclude that sustained optimization would be elusive in their absence.


Editor's Note: Stephanie Rutten-Ramos, DVM recently finished her PhD at the University of Minnesota and is now an independent