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What Is the Quality Team Responsible For? (Part 2) January 11, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Quality.
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If “everyone is responsible for quality,” then what is the quality team responsible for? This isn’t a trick question. If a team or department (or person) doesn’t have a clear, distinct, and ideally-unique assigned responsibility, then should they continue to exist as a separate entity in the organization? Shouldn’t they be doing something else instead, as part of another team?

Of course many businesses don’t have a separate quality team or department at all, and others have chosen to eliminate the quality department as an independent function. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t care about quality. Some of these businesses would probably argue that they have a greater commitment to quality because those principles and tools are fully integrated into all of their functions and processes. Why should all of the Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts be located in one central organization? Why not build local competencies within the functional groups, whether in new product development or marketing or finance?

This reminds me of a similar question about project management professionals and whether a business should have a central project management office, or PMO. There are a lot of different kinds of projects in a company, and there’s value in having trained project managers “homed” in all functions. However many businesses have decided that there’s value in having a central PMO to promote best practices, manage institutional learning, and generally standardize project management, even if the project managers are distributed in the functions. A central quality management office (QMO?) could do the same thing, couldn’t it, at least for larger businesses?

I believe there’s more to it than that. All functions in a business influence the quality of products or services, and that’s why there should be an independent organization that ideally isn’t part of any single functional group to design and manage the quality system. What kind of testing and inspection should the company perform? How should field failures or customer complaints be used to improve future products and services? What is the process for managing corrective actions? How are suppliers held responsible for their incoming quality? Can business processes be designed to be robust enough to eliminate the possibility of errors, and, if so, at what cost? What metrics should be reported and managed?

These are the questions should be assigned to a quality department. Yes, everyone is responsible for quality, but the quality department should be made responsible for the quality system. We shouldn’t automatically blame the quality department for poor quality, but we should seek to understand whether the quality system as it currently exists makes it possible for everyone to contribute to the expected level of quality. If you’re not getting the level of quality you need to compete successfully, you need quality professionals to determine whether the system can support that level of quality, recommend an alternative if appropriate, and implement that new system if approved. Then you can hold the quality department accountable for the performance of the system.

 

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