Unilever PLC is a Multinational Company with its headquarters based in London, United Kingdom. It provides various goods and services such as foods and refreshments, homecare and beauty and personal care. Unilever has grown and diversified since its foundation in 1929 from being a maker of oils and oil-based products into newer ventures. It has consistently put quality management techniques into use to aid not only in customer satisfaction but also in maintenance and improvement of product quality over the years with the help of pioneering individuals like W. Edwards Deming. The prioritization of customer needs and satisfaction over the years by Unilever has led to the notable growth and expansion of the company through the continuous exceeding of customer expectations achieved by the continuously changing processes instituted by them. “Consumers trust us to provide them and their families with high-quality products. We design and manufacture our products so they’re safe for their intended use.”
Quality Management refers to overseeing tasks and activities that must be accomplished to maintain an organization’s desired level of excellence. It includes quality planning, quality improvement, quality control, and quality assurance. The desire by manufacturing industries to ensure certain products for safe use, timely production, relevant production schemes, and technological advancements and why has led us to today’s quality management techniques (Rachman and Ratnayake, 2018). These techniques arose to aid companies and managers in decision making on which products to improve, those that are liked and are in more demand to help keep their firms profitable and on the best competitive edge. Quality Management (QM) has led to diversification as a result of customer feedback and outsourcing of services to cut costs while maintaining high-quality products.
Development of Total Quality Management in Unilever
Unilever was formed by a merger of operations of Margarine Unie and Lever Brothers, a British Soap-maker, in 1929. Over the years, it has grown from the production of soap, oils, and oil products to food, wellbeing vitamins, minerals and supplements, tea, coffee, breakfast cereal, cleaning agents, water and air purifiers. During its growth, it not only diversified in production from products made of oils and fats but also expanded its operations worldwide. Generally, a growing situation means that manufacturing processes are more saturated, generating higher losses in time that impact non-compliance with demand (Abimbola, Oyatoye and Oyenuga, 2020). Aside from the expansions and diversifications, one of the most important aspect businesses has to consider is quality.
Quality is widely considered a crucial element for success in the present competitive market. It emphasizes meeting various expectations and needs of customers by having standards and ways through which those given values are achieved, sustained and improved to exceed customer expectations (“Safetyculture.com”, 2022). Unilever has maintained competitiveness without losing focus on any given product or service by the development and implementation of structured operating conditions where best practices are continually introduced and enhanced. The diversification allowed the firm to remain solvent regardless of the severity of market fluctuations.
QM standards are applied worldwide, and their application is overseen by The International Standards of Organizations. They are set by the same body, ISO, whose main goal has been to protect businesses from fatal errors since its foundation in 1947 (Brata and Soediantono, 2022). There are several principles adopted by top management to aid in improving organizations’ performance, from the processes to the production and delivery of goods or services to consumers.
Principles of Quality Management Adopted
Generally, businesses without customers would have no purpose as the client’s needs create the niche; companies thus come to fill the gaps. It is, therefore, imperative that any firm’s primary focus is to meet and exceed the consumers’ expectations by understanding their current and future preferences. Unilever primarily focuses on consumer needs and aims at meeting them (Nguyen, Phan and Matsui, 2018). “We want to know what consumers think of our products – the good and the bad”. What they struggle with, what they are hooked on, how they’d like things to change, and where we can make a difference for them.
Unilever takes advantage of its data collection facilities to gather information from customer feedback. After an in-depth analysis, it adopts a factual approach to decision making, thus improving marketplace understanding, justifying their past, present, and future options and ease explaining possible unintended results. The approach emphasizes that understanding a good process guarantees waste removal, reduces costs, and results in improved consistency and quicker activities (Bastas and Liyanage, 2018). Staff involvement empowers employees in an organization and makes them accountable for their actions. Involving them in decision-making processes and recognizing their achievements encourages them to constantly improve themselves and their skills. This creates an edge of competitiveness amongst themselves as well as maintains consistency which improves their productivity in all aspects. Employee engagement should aim at ensuring that all workers are committed to their organization’s goals and values (Huswatun and Kholid, 2021). Consistent and predictable results are achieved more effectively and efficiently when activities are understood and managed as interrelated processes that function as a coherent system. Businesses with continuous improvement initiatives experience improved performance and increased ability to embrace new opportunities due to organizational flexibility and adaptability.
The performance of an organization is influenced by different parties. It is essential to create mutually beneficial relations between management with suppliers and retailers, manage the supply chain process, and promote the relationship between the firm and its dealers because they ensure optimum company performance. This ensures that the company can achieve sustainable collaboration and success. QM consists of four key components; quality planning, quality improvement, Quality assurance and quality control, as discussed below:
Quality Planning (QP)
QP refers to the process of identifying the best quality standards relevant to the project and making decisions regarding how to meet them. It ensures the identification of critical requirements for the project, reasonable timelines, and the budgets required for the projects. The manager is, therefore, able to work within the parameters while maintaining the value. Unilever has always ensured QP in all their projects to aid in the determination of objectives, processes, applied standards, roles, responsibilities, and metrics to measure quality. Information and technology are critical contributors to successful Total Quality Management (TQM).
Successful multinational companies like Unilever agree that information systems and IT serve as keys to their quality success. “Our 36 People Data Centers around the world help us understand what matters to people in real-time (Arias et al., 2020). This, combined with traditional consumer research, informs our strategy, product development, and marketing.” The manager is thus able to define the standards for success and the steps necessary to meet them, thereby reducing the risk stakeholders may not be satisfied with the final deliverable. Conduction of gap analysis as part of this phase helps identify the gap between where you are and where you need to be, the costs associated with it, and the creation of a quality team comprised of people from all the departmental levels.
Quality Improvement (QI)
It is the purposeful change of earlier existing processes to improve the reliability of the outcome. Quality improvement involves methods categorized into product improvement, process improvement, and people-based improvement (Bastas and Liyanage, 2019). It relies on collection and data analysis to ensure quality improvement. The data collected helps the manager understand how effective the systems are, identify potential areas for development, set measurable objectives, and help in monitoring the effectiveness of the changes.
Quality Improvement Models and Tools (QIM)
Quality Improvement models refer to a formal framework for establishing quality enhancement processes in your organizational practices. They include Six Sigma, a model of improvement that is aimed at decreasing variation and defects. Lean is an approach aimed at driving out waste and improving efficiency in work processes. Others include Kaizen, Zero Defect programs, Quality Circle, Taguchi Methods, The Toyota Production System, Kansei Engineering Top-Down, and Bottom-Up approaches. In the early 20th Century, a statistician used statistical process control tools to determine sources of variation that led to waste in manufacturing.
Dr. Deming laid his philosophical tactic to the transformation of organizations emphasizing the significance of a clear understanding of variations and how they influenced the process. This approach paved the way for today’s quality enhancement perspective. His 14 points have become a major part of manufacturing, and they have been instrumental. They include: creating objectives and purpose of the organization, adopting new philosophical ideas, understanding the need for inspection, instituting training to improve people’s skills in jobs and focusing on quality development.
Quality Assurance (QA)
While quality assurance and quality control share interrelated activities, they are different concepts of quality management. Quality control (QC) is subject to quality assurance activities (Seyfried and Pohlenz, 2018). It emphasizes defect or variation prevention rather than variation detection and handling in quality control. In quality assurance, two principles are involved: “right first time” and “fit for purpose.” Both principles involve managing the quality of the raw materials, services related to production, production, and inspection procedures (Brander et al., 2020). Fit for purpose ensures the right materials’ determination and suitability for the intended purpose, whereas right-first-time institutes mistake elimination. Lontsikh et al. (2020) said integrated control management tools provide correct solutions by creating electronic models in the production systems and complex designs. Unilever improves its modern production parameters by implementing these based on information security systems, a digital management approach, and instituting the modernized Deming PDCA quality management cycle.
Quality Control (QC)
It involves testing units and determining if the final product is within the predetermined specifications to ensure product quality is either improved or maintained. It reduces chances for errors as it ensures skilled and well-trained personnel is involved in tasks they have adequate training (Ma et al., 2020). Unilever puts the safety of its consumers first and strives to ensure customer satisfaction and the safety the consumers. The long-established Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) works with teams across Unilever to assess the safety and environmental sustainability of our products (Bijlsma et al., 2020). The centre also evaluates the processes used to manufacture our products. As part of the responsible innovation approach, we design safety and sustainability into products and manufacturing processes using the best science available. Uniliver will be able to proactively address any potential product safety or quality issues (Fentem et al., 2021). So we monitor and track consumer and customer feedback. Sometimes mistakes can be made in the end-to-end value chain.
A product might, for example, have a quality defect, or there may be contamination of the raw materials or a mislabeling of ingredients. If this happens, protecting consumers’ safety should be the number one priority (Hempel et al., 2019). When necessary, we will recall such products from the marketplace.” Unilever has adopted various quality control methods. Due to technological advancements, quality control charts have helped Unilever keep track of sample products that are intended to meet specifications, and if they are deviating, they show the degree of variation (Lontsikh et al., 2020). Unilever has also adopted the six sigma technique, which focuses on data to reduce variations to a minimum while at the same time documenting all the processes involved. Therefore, implementation of the characteristics of modern production of a new generation is impossible without digital control and information security introduction.
Strengths of QIM strategy
Generally, QIM plays a significant role in ensuring organizations produce products and services that meet the needs of customers. The approach allows organization management to focus on critical areas that derive sales for the firm. Furthermore, the practice enables Uniliver Company to reduce the cost and expenditures by lowering the amount of waste products. QIM ensures managers have the ability to configure and formulate procedures to solve possible challenges the firm encounters.
Weaknesses of QIM Strategy
The process of continuous inspection of goods and services to determine quality is expensive and requires the company to spend money on paying professionals performing the inspection and testing costs. In cases where the commodities become faulty, it is challenging to reduce waste. Moreover, the QIM procedure limits the potential of most workers. Thus they become less concerned about the production of quality goods and services (Escrig-Tena et al., 2018). This will make the company incur an increased cost of maintaining the standard because even the defects that can be avoided will remain a threat to the business.
Areas of Improvement
The Uniliver firm is aimed at providing products and services having high quality. In order to maintain the process, the company should enhance its ability to monitor customers’ feedback for easier identification of possible areas for adjustments. Moreover, the business organization should call back defective goods bought by consumers (Braun et al., 2020). The managers should also ensure all employees are working towards promoting quality improvement to enhance compliance. When workers are included in the approach, it will be easier for them to determine areas worth development to enable the organization to achieve its objective of delivering standard products in the market. In addition, staff members should be continuously trained on matters pertaining to quality products to ensure they have relevant knowledge and skills that will enhance the safety of the consumers who purchase the commodities.
Adopting Dr. Deming’s philosophical approach of multiple suppliers giving various variations by Unilever is vague. It does not welcome opportunities which would be achieved in the process or problems associated, which would be a good learning experience and an important navigation point for the business to flexibility, adaptability, and innovation. Many a time, new and better products have been developed as a result of accidental maneuvers or unintended product creations that were turned around. Understanding the need for inspection would necessitate the need for inspection regardless of how many variations have been limited by the process instituted by the organization (Schmidt, 2019). The need to check all set guidelines, the effectivity of the instituted mechanism, identification of areas within that merit changes for improvement and if the end product’s quality is maintained or improved in the process is thus not overlooked.
Quality management is critical in business not only to ensure consistency of quality in its products and services but also in its processes. A consumer’s main interest is not getting a product or a service from the manufacturer or supplier but rather quality products and services; thus, the supplier’s main concern should be to provide products that are of consistent and great quality like Unilever’s “We want to know what consumers think of our products – the good and the bad. What they struggle with, what they are hooked on, how they’d like things to change, and where we can make a difference for them. Practicing QM therefore serves significant purpose making an organization to be able to sustain itself with limited resources. It is through quality assurance practices that enable the company to deliver safe end products to customer. When manufacturing firm establish proper and reliable strategy, it become more sustainable in the industry. Depite the impacts of the TQM, it may make workers in the production sector to be less concern about the safety hence making company to incur costs of hiring quality specialists.
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