The Human Factor in Quality Assurance

Articles, Springs Magazine

Virtually everyone in the manufacturing world has been exposed to quality standards. ISO is a popular worldwide standard that Wikipedia defines this way:
The International Organization for Standardization (Organisation internationale de normalisation), widely known as ISO, is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Founded on February 23, 1947, the organization promulgates world-wide industrial and commercial standards.

Quality system standards are really not hard to understand. A company creates and follows a system of instructions that define the difference between a good product and a bad one. If things are done correctly, standards are created and communicated to the shop floor. Employees follow the standards and product gets shipped to customers that meet their requirements.

Don’t we all wish the quality assurance process was that simple! Too often communication and implementation are issues that are glossed over and not corrected. It involves the human factor on both sides of the manufacturing chain.

Let’s start with communication. Poor communication means any failure of management to explain to the shop floor exactly what quality standards are from the start. A typical scenario is ready-go-set! It never works.

The ideal scenario is where all employees are brought together to have the standards explained in detail and how the company will implement them. This is more than just talking about the nuts and bolts mechanism of the quality system, it goes to what the system is truly about – accountability.

The very moment you tell people you will hold them accountable for product quality, you fire an emotional “wake-up call.” You put them on notice that they will be held accountable for their actions. It is important to communicate that everyone makes mistakes, but it must be done not to punish but for the sake of accountability.

Most of us were taught as young children to “not” do certain things and were punished accordingly when we broke those rules. That childhood image of punishment and the disappointment that goes with it still lingers for many people. Especially when someone tells them: “You made a mistake.”

A quality system should never be about punishment — it’s about making things right and defining what that is. Discipline, not punishment, is the key to any quality system. Discipline is done to make corrections and move forward. It requires every employee to understand what quality standards are expected, and then commit to making it a priority each and every day.

Quality standards are at the heart of great manufacturing. It says we know how to do it right, we have it in writing and have told everyone what it’s all about. This starts from the top down.

One of the more painful errors in American manufacturing is the tendency to divorce top management from both the product and the process. Top managers need to understand the system and how it’s used. They do not need to know the detail level used by the inspector or floor worker, but they do need to know what standard they have asked employees to follow and what results can be expected if everyone follows the game plan. This standard needs to be communicated in a clear and deliberate manner to each employee.

The people in your “Quality Assurance” department do not assure quality, they define it. They are the lawmakers and the police. The production floor is where the responsibility lies for the actual implementation of the quality standards you have defined.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to talk openly about problems and then solve them. Unfortunately, humans are naturally poor communicators. A good exchange of information from one brain to another is a skill that takes time, patience and a goal. Since all human experience involves emotion (joy, happiness, pride, disappointment), no one can discount the emotional affect of holding people accountable.

Be sure the message is all about identification and correction…not identification and punishment.

By: Randy DeFord, Engineering Manager Mid-West Spring & Stamping