MSC voyages to the Quality Management System

A common characteristic of high performing organizations is a practice of continually evaluating and improving performance.

MSC is embarking on a path to implement a Quality Management System ashore. Military Sealift Fleet Support Command led the way for MSC several years ago by instituting a QMS, and what is now MSC Norfolk is certified to an international standard as a result. In phase one of a two-phase operation, we are expanding the scope of the system to MSC Washington. The second phase will expand QMS to include our area commands worldwide.

Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, commander, Military Sealift Command, boards high-speed vessel Swift (HSV 2)

Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, commander, Military Sealift Command, boards high-speed vessel Swift (HSV 2)

Afloat operations

For several years, our government-owned/government-operated ships crewed by civil service mariners have operated under the Safety Management System, another internationally recognized and certified program addressing the safety of our people, ships, operations and the environment at sea. This program, parallel to QMS, seeks constant process and program improvement. It’s an excellent program and will continue.

Our government-owned/contractor-operated and commercially chartered ships and crews are all required by contract to have a safety management system that meets international safety requirements similar to our own SMS, so they, too, are looking for constant improvement.

Shore operations

In our 2013-2018 MSC Strategic Plan, we formalized my four strategic priorities, one of which was to focus on the customer. In the 2013 MSC Corporate Plan, the first of five annual “roadmaps” describing how we’ll execute the strategic plan, we identified the objective of meeting customer requirements by providing talent, equipment and processes that achieve cost-effective, timely results. That resulted in the strategy of implementing QMS and certifying it through an external audit.

We’re well on the way to completing that implementation, and we’re working toward an external audit, which will take place in August.

What is QMS?

The MSC Quality Management System is a structured, systematic approach to developing, maintaining and improving the procedures, processes and resources we need to execute our mission. QMS is based on an international set of standards – ISO 9001:2008 – and gives us a process to continuously improve our operations and procedures across the board.

There are four stages in QMS. The first is PLAN – say what you do (and document the processes). The second is DO – do what you said you would do by implementing the processes. Stage three is CHECK – prove what you did by presenting the records during an audit. The fourth stage is ACT – review and improve your processes continuously. Then you update your plan and begin the cycle again.

Quality policy

It all starts with the MSC Quality Policy: “At MSC, we will continuously improve our business processes in order to provide the best service to our customers.” That makes sense, doesn’t it? I think most all of us are looking for a better, more efficient way to do our jobs, right? This policy should be such an integrated part of the way we do business that we all know it by heart, or at least where to find it.

It’s the continuous feedback loop that allows QMS to help us perform at our best level and continuously find new ways to improve our service.

QMS people

The international standards call for a Quality Representative in every ISO 9001:2008 organization. MSC’s Quality Rep is John Quandt in N9, Strategic Planning. John and his crew have overall responsibility for QMS and its implementation. But they don’t do it alone.

Each of the MSC staff N-codes and PO1, PO2 and their program managers have QMS Coordinators who can answer your questions and help you understand this new system within your area of expertise. If you don’t know who your QMS Coordinator is, ask your supervisor. They should know.

Documentation & tracking

Documentation is key to tracking our objectives and initiatives, and to making improvements over time. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about the documentation requirements and why they make the QMS an excellent tool for a 21st century organization like MSC. Ask your QMS Coordinator about taking a class.

Audits & auditors

Under QMS, audits will determine how well we are following our processes and, therefore, how well we are meeting our customers’ needs. Audits will be either internal (conducted by MSC people who have been trained an internal auditors) or external (conducted by trained auditors from the American Bureau of Shipping). ABS understands the maritime business and what MSC is all about, so they are a natural choice for this task. The audits will provide an opportunity for continuous improvement.

Our first internal audit took place in March. Another is scheduled for May. The next external audit for Norfolk and Washington will be in August. That’s when ABS personnel will visit various offices, asking MSC people what the quality policy is, what objectives and initiatives they support and what their processes look like.

QMS & you

Over the next few months, the Washington and Norfolk staffs will be actively involved in building and documenting our processes as we fully implement QMS. When we are complete, your responsibility will be to be familiar with your processes and what initiatives and objectives they support.

Another thing you’ll need to know is the MSC Quality Policy. Again, it’s “At MSC, we will continuously improve our business processes in order to provide the best service to our customers.” It’s the first thing listed in the small, one-page, folded brochure entitled, “Introduction to MSC’s Quality Management System (QMS)” that, by now, every MSC shipmate should have. Keep it handy. If you can refer to it when the auditor asks you questions, you’ll come through the audit with flying colors.

MSC delivers!

QMS is not another passing management fad – it is an internationally recognized business standard that will help MSC continue to make good on the mission promise that “we deliver.” Like any new tool, QMS will take a while to get used to. We’ll all need to expend some energy on learning how it applies to us and how to use it properly. Once we have QMS fully integrated, we’ll be a tighter, more effective and more efficient organization. Which means that our QMS program directly supports our fourth strategic objective: Manage organizational change and growth!

Sail safe and yours aye,                                                                           Mark H. “Buz” Buzby                                                                                 Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy                                                                         Commander, Military Sealift Command

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