Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Quality Monster

When I was fresh out of college and got involved in my first consulting gig I was somewhat confused to learn about the prevalence and power of the “quality department” in most of the companies that I was working for. Through my studies I learned that quality was a controlling concept that manufacturers used to make sure that everything was – if you will - ok with the product. It took my quite a while to understand and grasp the extent of this monster of an organization, which seemed to have a deliberate separate existence within each company.

Where did this quality organization come from? It seemed unnatural to have quality managed by a separate entity. My understanding at the time was that quality was inherently part of the process. It came from good engineering and good craftsmanship – with a sprinkle of discipline. If you separate the quality management from the process, you create a conflict of interests. The people involved in each department strive towards different goals.

Why then do we have huge quality organizations in regulated industries? Ah-ha “regulated” that may be the clue. It seems to stem from the push for compliance. Regulated bodies like to have confidence that there is compliance. How better to show this other than be dedicating a separate organization to secure compliance? So it seems that in fact its politics and not anything to do with good engineering or manufacturing practices.

In my mind quality and product are tightly connected. Quality products is what we want, there is no sense in product with no quality. Therefore it makes no sense to separate these to organizationally either. Like a good German engineered car (or Japanese nowadays) it is a result of an effective production system. In fact in quality is something you get free if you simply Lean-out your process. Quality is inherent to the process. However you can’t just tell your quality department to go home one day? Is it me that fails to see the benefits in what we consider best practices?

1 comment:

Nicole Tedesco said...

"Quality Assurance" engineers and other participants are professionals in the concept of quality management. In a hard sciences discipline, such a physics, these would people who are specialized in constructing, running, and validating experiments. Not everyone can do this. While there are those who can construct a particle accelerator, and those who understand the theories behind the experiments, experimental design in of itself is a specialized discipline. Quality assurance departments in engineering shops are also specialists in communication, documentation, accounting, and indeed engineering.

Of course, this all depends on whether the QA department is actually functional