Quality Management is a business philosophy that became influential in the last half of the twentieth century. The NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework is grounded in the business philosophy called (Total) Quality Management (TQM). Many TQM principles are built into the NDIS Practice Standards and Quality Indicators. Providers who understand Quality Management techniques will likely find NDIS compliance easier.
This article is an introduction to Quality Management for NDIS providers. Understanding Quality Management can help ensure compliance under the NDIS, and reduce the compliance burden. We have published a comprehensive introduction to Quality Management and the NDIS Practice Standards that has helped a lot of providers understand how to manage Quality and prepare for audits. It’s called Audit Guide: Working with the NDIS Practice Standards
What is NDIS Quality Management?
The NDIS is a regulated marketplace. NDIS providers must follow certain laws and regulations, and attempt to achieve the objectives set out in the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework (that is, the outcomes published in the NDIS Practice Standards). Providers that do not comply with these requirements may not be allowed to continue delivering services under the NDIS.
Quality Management is the processes, tools and techniques providers use to ensure they comply. And, because NDIS providers must be able to demonstrate their compliance to an auditor, Quality Management also involves preparing for audit by gathering a variety of evidence: policies, records, risk assessments, staff files, participant files, and so on. These are the two main Quality Management tasks for NDIS providers.
How complex should our NDIS Quality System be?
There are risks involved in delivering NDIS services. Some services, and some supports, create greater risks than others. Providers must have a Quality Management System (QMS) that is robust enough to meet the risks. The NDIS Practice Standards use the word ‘proportionate.’ Larger organisations and higher-risk supports require more complex Quality systems.
More complexity might mean using digital data-bases to keep track of large amounts of information, more frequent reviews or a dedicated Quality Management role. While auditors have the responsibility to determine whether or not an organisation’s QMS is adequate, providers should consider their Quality Management needs intelligently. This entails conducting risk assessments, developing strategies and implementing them.
Effective NDIS Quality Management
The NDIS Commission must regulate a wide variety of services. Rather than say ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ the NDIS Practice Standards express the NDIS objectives as ‘outcomes’ that providers must attempt to achieve. Organisations are more or less free to achieve the outcomes in their own way. Some are straightforward, some less so. It’s not just a matter of ‘ticking the boxes.’ Quality Managers become adept at interpretting the Standards and predicting the kind of evidence auditors will need.
Quality Management isn’t just about compliance. The TQM philosophy promises other benefits. More customer and staff consultation leads to increased job satisfaction and organisational success. In the Practice Standards — because they are expressed as outcomes — the line between business philosophy and compliance is sometimes a little blurry. Historically, community sector practice frameworks were designed to promote professionalism in provider organisations. With a greater free market emphasis under the NDIS, it’s difficult to say precisely what auditors might expect in this regard. And it’s likely to change year to year depending on the NDIS marketplace.
That said, Certification Audits do expect that staff understand and can implement Quality processes. So it makes sense to consult with staff when developing or reviewing processes. That applies to participants too, and the Practice Standards clearly require participant input.
Efficient NDIS Quality Management
A TQM mindset promotes a business culture in which staff and participants are included in forming, implementing and reviewing organisational Quality goals. That’s a requirement in the NDIS Practice Standards. That’s valuable and it needn’t take a lot of time.
There are lots of simple ways to manage Quality more efficiently and reduce the compliance burden. Try creating processes that accomplish the two main Quality Management tasks at the same time. Put simply, forms can both guide staff and collect data as audit evidence.
Providers can significantly increase their effectiveness and reduce audit stress (more on this below) by regularly maintaining their Quality Systems. For smaller organisations, this may take as little as an hour per week.
Don’t neglect routine Quality maintenance. Deal with issues promptly and methodically. Make Quality Management part of your business routine. Staff will become more familiar with the organisation’s Quality objectives and strategies if they’re a Team Meeting agenda item. Participants can have greater input if Quality processes are a routine part of service delivery. Do this and you’ll have:
- Reduced stress of Certification Audits by distributing the workload throughout the year,
- Fewer problems at audit,
- Greater ability to solve problems arising at audit,
- Maximised staff and participant support,
- Minimised staff and participant resistance,
- Greater ability to create acceptable corrective action plans, in the (unlikely) event of a non-conformance,
- Much post-audit celebrating.
It’s important for NDIS providers to understand Quality Management. It’s not just about compliance and passing audits. Quality Management offers benefits that mean a happier, safer and more successful workplace. The Quality Management mindset may be difficult for some providers to grasp immediately. But it’s worth starting into it as early as possible, persevering and chipping away at it methodically.