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Quality and Production, Partners or Enemies? June 18, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics, Quality.
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Lately I’ve been finding interesting topics on LinkedIn group discussions. The other day a contributor described his difficulty in moving from a quality job to a production job, and then back again. He  found it hard to maintain the mindset and attitude required  to advance quality goals while working in production, and vice versa. In his workplace it seems that quality is often viewed as the enemy of production, and he wondered if this could be reconciled.

I understand what this person is talking about. I’ve worked in high-volume manufacturing environments where any quality hiccup, whether it’s found internally or reported by the customer, is viewed as a threat to the production plan. There can be tremendous pressure to ignore defects and their causes, underestimate their frequency, and de-value their severity in order to keep production going. That is, until the customer complains, in which case everyone looks for someone else to blame.

Ideally, the quality team should be focused on defect prevention, helping to ensure that the design of the product and the production processes are robust and less-likely to result in defects, and monitoring processes to identify and eliminate special causes. The production team is clearly a vital and necessary partner in this effort, specifically because they are the ones actually executing these processes, and any adjustment or change to address the causes of defects will be their responsibility.

A little bit of shared insight may help here. The production team needs to understand that building units that do not meet quality requirements will lead to higher internal costs due to scrap and rework. This consumes time and people, and reduces throughput and net production, even if you just throw the bad units into the corner. Shipping bad product to customers jeopardizes the business relationship and could ultimately lead to zero production. Deliberately shipping bad product will get you there faster. The quality team isn’t trying to prevent production, and defects should never be hidden from them.

The quality team needs to provide a clear definition of defects, based on customer requirements, and establish testing, inspection and audit procedures to find defects, based on expected defect frequency, severity, and acceptable quality levels. This should include procedures for stopping production after a defect is found, segregating suspect material to prevent inadvertent shipment, identifying and eliminating the root cause, and re-starting production. The production team needs to know how quality issues will be handled, and that the processes will be run quickly in a way that minimizes the impact to the production plan.

Finally, senior management, and customers, need to make it clear that meeting the production plan and on-time delivery performance measures mean nothing without quality. There’s an allocation of responsibility in every organization to different functions. Quality and production have specialized skills and separate responsibilities, but they must support the same overall goals for the business. Management cannot allow these functions to become enemies.

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