Quality Assurance: Cops or Lifeguards?
G U E S T A R T I C L E
There’s some truth to that mindset. If a process is running properly and designed correctly, quality product is produced 95 percent of the time. For 5 percent of the time, there’s a chance of producing nonconforming, suspect, or bad parts due to natural variation in the process or manufacturing equipment. Therefore, it’s the operator’s responsibility to take charge of the process and help ensure that only good products reach the customer.
Let’s define that a bit. Who is our customer? Believe it or not, everyone is our customer. If you make a product that moves to another employee in your facility, that person is your customer. No matter how many steps there are in the process before product goes out the door and on the truck, the employees involved in those steps are your customers. Ensuring your customers are happy is your primary job.
Put yourself in their place. You as a consumer (or customer) only want the best value for your money and the best service. You work hard for your money and expect nothing less. Now reverse your role, and look at your customers. Is there any reason why they shouldn’t get the exact same value and service from you? Whether you are working on product that goes directly to the company’s customer, or you are supplying product that goes to another station within your assembly line, your concern has to be about making your customer absolutely pleased with what you have provided. If everyone did that faithfully, no one would receive bad product from anyone.
However, people make mistakes, and as the picture of the baby wearing a bib says, “Spit happens.” That’s why there are quality inspectors. Let me say that even though I have been a quality engineer and a quality manager, I personally dislike the term “quality inspector.” It sounds as if you are on the police force or a detective who solves crimes. I also dislike the term “quality control” because that has a serious overtone of being in charge and controlling everything. Quality is everyone’s job. It’s everyone’s responsibility that nothing but quality product goes to their next customer. For that reason, I prefer “quality assurance” over quality control and definitely over quality inspectors.
I believe there’s a better term for the quality assurance role, but before I tell you what it is, let me get you on the same page with me. I believe that the job you spend most of your waking day at is part of your life. Because of the job, you’re able to afford a house, a car, food for yourself and your family, and all the little extras that make life more interesting (e.g., hobbies, entertainment). If you lost your job, there would be a lifestyle adjustment until you found another job. Being unemployed for a long period of time could be devastating.
We invest in different things to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our lifestyle (e.g., life insurance or Life Lock to prevent identify theft or credit card fraud). In a similar way, we need to re-identify what is and who are protecting our jobs. The quality “cops” are really there to make sure we don’t send bad product to our customer. We don’t want unhappy customers taking their business elsewhere. If we lose our customers, we lose our income, which means some people will lose their jobs. If we continue to do a bad job across the board, everyone will lose their jobs, and the business will close. This means we need major protection.
Here’s my new thinking. Why not call our quality assurance people “quality lifeguards?” Their job really is to guard against us losing an important part of our life—our income. I prefer to think of these folks as “quality protectors” instead of inspectors. Doesn’t this put their role in a different light? Instead of thinking of them as the bad guys or bullying cops, view them as the people who are here to protect our jobs by ensuring only quality products reach our customers. We need to appreciate their effort instead of dreading seeing them. They are here to protect our livelihoods, our lives.
Each and every one of you has control over what products reach your customer. Make sure that your next customer receives the best product that is possible.
I’m the supply development engineer at Michigan Rubber Products in Cadillac, Michigan, and thus a member of the quality team. During a team meeting, our quality manager, Cindy Hamner, had this to say: “We have to change the culture and thinking of our workers. They view our quality department as the enemy. They seem to think that our job is to make their lives difficult, and that we are too picky. They just don’t understand that we are trying to ensure our customers get the best product so that we continue to grow and gain business, and not lose business. We have to find a way to communicate to them that we are here to help protect their jobs.”
That evening I was thinking about the meeting while watching television. When a program came on with lifeguards at a pool, I came up with the idea that quality inspectors should have the title of “quality lifeguards” who provide “quality protection” rather than enforce quality control. I proposed the idea to Hamner the next morning, and she loved it.
I designed the T-shirt that our quality protectors proudly wear, and they have generated many comments. We’re asked, “What’s with the lifeguard shirts?” and we tell the story I’ve told you—that we’re here to protect everyone’s jobs. While this new concept has only been on the floor a few weeks, the quality protectors are being viewed in a more positive way, and the negative remarks seem to be disappearing. We love the concept because it has promoted a more positive image for our people on the floor, and press operators and assemblers are now beginning to think differently and more positively about the product they produce.
About the author:
Frank Armstrong is the supplier development engineer at Michigan Rubber Products in Cadillac, Michigan. Also a business management professor, Armstrong has taught at universities and colleges for more than eight years. During his 25 years in industry, Armstrong has served as an engineer in quality processes and supplier development, as a district manager, an RAB auditor for QS-9000, and a Six Sigma Black Belt. He has myriad experience in quality, team dynamics, and leadership. Armstong is author of How to Get the Job You Want and Then Keep It! (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2015) and writes the Making Sense Chronicles blog.
Article and pictures are reproduced with permission.