Jim L. Smith 2014-03-20 02:02:38
MAKE QUALITY PERSONAL CHANGE THE FOCUS TO IMPROVE CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. If you’ve been in a quality function even a short time, you’ve engaged in discussions, sometimes not so friendly, about the definition of quality. I often tell my quality management students that once it’s known that they’ve taken formal quality training, they should be prepared to be asked, usually in front of others, about their personal definition. For such a simple word everyone seems to have difficulty with a definition. Even some of the world’s most notable quality gurus like Juran, Deming and Feigenbaum have not always, or at least seemingly, agreed on a common definition. It’s my opinion that their definitions have a common theme to “know customer wants and needs and to ensure we are meeting those expectations,” which is pertinent to this column’s message. The various definitions of quality can be a stimulus for interesting discussions; however, when it comes to determining which product passes and which fails on the factory floor, quality needs a working definition that is consistent, useful and productive. As someone who has grown up around process and product quality and spent time in quality, manufacturing, engineering, R&D, etc., of a Fortune 50 company, this issue has consumed much of my time. Over almost half a century in the heavy machinery industry I’ve had the pleasure to work in many facilities. Those facilities produced fabrications, light and heavy machining, transmission assembly and testing, torque converters, tractor assembly and testing, and diesel engine assembly and testing. Since not all things are perfect there have been many gray areas so the question basically remained the same, “Is it okay to ship?” Certainly the people I went to for help were very willing to advise and counsel. Sometimes I was given the theoretical or strict definition: “Is it to print?” or “Does it meet specifications?” This usually happened when people didn’t know the answer or felt a cautious approach was best. In time, however, a consistent message kept coming to the surface. Many seasoned experts delivered a powerful message through their actions that became a guiding principle for me. The lesson learned was to develop a working definition of quality for quick, effective decisions. When customers are depending on product, we don’t always have the luxury of finding someone to make that decision for us. Therefore, in time, I found it effective, when caught in those gray zones, to develop a working definition of quality. For me it’s been: “A quality product is one that you should feel good about shipping to yourself, to a personal friend, or to a family member.” When we truly understand and execute this working definition, we become empowered and work diligently to make good decisions. It is always important to note that customers do NOT generally have blueprints or functional specifications to use as a guideline for acceptability. Customers want the same thing. They expect the product on-time, defect-free, and delivery of what was promised. As far as “defect-free,” quality must be considered from their perspective and not from the producers’ perspective. In the final analysis, that is all that counts. With this in mind, how can a working definition be helpful? Without a working definition, we are more likely to allow marginal quality product to ship because it was shipping to a destination—a stranger. If we were inspecting a product that was borderline acceptable and the customer was our best friend, I would submit that most of us would be more critical and possibly make a different decision. Would your thinking be affected if you were making a decision about the acceptability of that product in final prep before a shipment that was to be delivered to your next-door neighbor? I submit your attention would be different, but why should it be? So, next time try treating each product inspection like it was going to a good friend. Think how you would feel meeting your friend immediately after they received a delivery that you had approved for shipment. Would you feel that you’d let them down, or would you feel proud that you had done all you could to ensure their satisfaction and, ultimately, appreciation? If we take the personal approach to earn our customers’ business every day by doing what’s right for them in every situation, they’re less likely to try someone else. This approach will help to reinforce a culture that the customer comes first and that, ultimately, the entire organization is dedicated to delivering product on-time, at the expected quality level, and delivering the cost-value relationship. Jim L. Smith has more than 45 years of industry experience in operations, engineering, research & development and quality management. You can reach Jim at email@example.com.
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