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Is Your Company Really Committed to Quality? February 11, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Product design, Project management, Quality, Supply chain.
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In a recent post I wrote about suppliers who claim to be committed to quality, but may not actually behave that way. Before getting too carried away with improving quality in the supply chain, it’s probably a good idea to understand your own company’s commitment to quality, although I see nothing wrong with holding your suppliers to a higher standard. It may seem impressive when businesses highlight quality as a core value, something that’s published on their web site and displayed on their walls, but is that just for show?

I’m not necessarily suggesting that there’s anything hypocritical or underhanded going on here. You may be able to ¬†measure the quality of products and services against an objective standard, but it’s a lot harder to assess an organization’s commitment to quality from the daily actions of its employees.

Why is this worth knowing? It’s one thing to respond to quality issues after they occur, but if the business expects its employees to proactively make decisions that avoid quality issues, then the employees need to be calibrated with examples of expected behaviors. Also, if there is a separate quality function within the business, those people need to be able to match their effort to the expected results, particularly if the actual commitment to quality is less than advertised. In that case the people in the quality function will find themselves constantly battling with other functions (and possibly senior leadership) that don’t have the same priorities or sense of urgency.

The company may have framed slogans and quality awards in their lobby, but here are some questions that can help determine how serious they are:

  • What stories do people tell about quality? Are there any incidents from the company’s past that illustrate the commitment of senior leadership?
  • Has the company ever proactively initiated a product recall or major field repair at significant expense? How about a line shutdown that delayed shipment? What happened afterward? Was there finger-pointing and recriminations, or was this treated as an important opportunity for continuous learning and commitment?
  • Has the company ever delayed the scheduled release of a product or service to address a late test result?
  • Is there a regular review of customer-reported quality issues? Are engineering and development teams required to allocate time for improvement of previously-released products or services?
  • What is the attitude toward people who bring quality issues to light? Are they ignored, or brushed aside, or are their inputs valued and appreciated?
  • What’s the relationship with regulatory and certifying agencies and 3rd party auditors? Does the company spend weeks sweeping issues under the carpet to keep them hidden, or is this treated as an opportunity to consult with independent experts?
  • Is quality considered to be an external customer standard that must be met, or is it considered to be an internal imperative to reduce cost and increase throughput and productivity?

If quality is something that is managed as an afterthought, then no one should be surprised when quality crises happen. It’s just not a priority. However, if the company has a strategic quality requirement in order to compete effectively and maintain profitability, then they have to make sure that everyone understands their contribution to quality and behaves accordingly.

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