The Human Side of Quality

July 30, 2007
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At the end of the day it’s about people.

“The most important thing that I have been preaching my whole career is the human side of quality is at least as important as the technical side of quality,” says Jimmy (Jim) L. Smith, Operations Quality Manager for Caterpillar Inc.’s Mossville Engine Center (MEC) in Mossville, IL, and Greenville, SC.

Smith, Quality Magazine’s 2007 Professional of the Year, leads by example. Not only does he spend his days at Caterpillar, he spends many hours volunteering to teach others about quality.





At the end of the day it’s about people.

“The most important thing that I have been preaching my whole career is the human side of quality is at least as important as the technical side of quality,” says Jimmy (Jim) L. Smith, Operations Quality Manager for Caterpillar Inc.’s Mossville Engine Center (MEC) in Mossville, IL, and Greenville, SC. “You can teach people how to do process failure mode and effects analysis (FMEAs) or design FMEAs or control charts or design of experiments-you can teach people how to go do that. But you can’t really teach them to have that passion, that dedication, that commitment. So at the end of the day it’s about people.”

Smith, Quality Magazine’s 2007 Professional of the Year, leads by example. Not only does he spend his days at Caterpillar, he spends many hours volunteering to teach others about quality.

“It takes passion to do what is right for your organization, the customer you represent and your organization’s shareholders,” says Jim Smith. Source: Caterpillar Inc., Jim Carlson, photographer

Career

Passion is one reason Smith has landed where he is today. Smith began his career with Caterpillar 43 years ago to help out his family. When he graduated high school, Smith’s father was sick and with two younger sisters still at home, he postponed college and went in search of a job. He turned 18 on a Saturday, went to the Caterpillar employment office the following Monday, and started work that Thursday.

A third-generation Caterpillar employee, Smith hired in on the factory floor cleaning welds in the fabrications building. “I hired in at what I call the front end of the hiring wave. Baby Boomers were just getting into the marketplace, the world economy was picking up and Caterpillar was globally expanding,” Smith recalls. “I was fortunate to be in on the beginning of that surge so there was a lot of movement with a lot of job availability.”

After only six weeks on the job, Smith was promoted to running a machine, and then learned to run a variety of machines. Throughout the years, Smith has worked in four facilities and in a variety of areas including welding, machine shop, assembly, engineering, research and development, and even business resources. Smith estimates that he has spent more than half of his career in quality-related functions.

Smith says that early in his career he realized the importance of raising his hand and saying, “I’ll take that assignment.” Doing this has afforded him the opportunity to have his hand in many different aspects of the company.

In his current position as operations quality manager, Smith’s responsibilities include directing operations quality, internal quality and process certification, office process certification, ISO/TS 16949 quality certification, metrology and quality assurance.

 



In addition to the many hours he spends on the job, on his own time Smith develops, teaches and makes available ASQ preparatory certification classes for Caterpillar employees locally and throughout the company via teleconferencing. Source: Caterpillar Inc., Jim Carlson, photographer

Accomplishments

In 1983, at the request of upper management, Smith developed and managed a facility-wide people involvement program-the Mossville Cost Reduction Program. This was the culmination of efforts from management and salaried employees, as well as technicians. They all worked together to improve processes, lower costs, reduce scrap and rework, reduce cycle times and reduce external failure costs. Those in Caterpillar estimate that over the years, the program has saved millions in production costs while improving product quality and employee engagement. Now known as IDEAS, the program has won several national awards and has been adopted by many other Caterpillar facilities.

Smith says, “The program was really a people involvement program that just happened to handle cost-reduction ideas.” He explains that technicians were trained to go to their peers and generate ideas. The ideas were then investigated, documented and presented to management. While no longer managing the program, Smith admits, “That is one of the things I look back on and have a lot of fondness for.”

Smith also is proud of his involvement in Caterpillar’s Annual Quality Improvement (AQI) Award Program, which is process-driven and recognizes teams throughout the corporation for projects focusing on improvements of safety, process and product quality. The award is based on Dr. Joseph Juran’s beliefs in attacking quality improvement one project at a time by having hundreds of projects going on simultaneously.

Each AQI unit in the company can select up to two projects to enter in the corporate competition. The entries are peer reviewed using an online scoring system. The top 10 projects are then forwarded to Caterpillar’s group presidents for review using the same scoring process. From those 10 projects, five are selected to be presented to the chairman. Four of the projects receive the President’s Award and the winning project team is presented with the Chairman’s Award. According to Caterpillar, implementing the projects has resulted in significant benefits throughout the years.

According to Walt Saal, manager of the AQI program, “Jim leads the corporation in the number of President Award-winning projects with 22. Additionally, he has had five of the top Chairman Award-winning projects.”

Not only has he been recognized for his accomplishments in Caterpillar, Smith has been recognized for his achievements throughout the industry as well. Earlier this year he was named an American Society for Quality (ASQ) Fellow and Quality Professional of the Year by the ASQ Automotive Division. Smith also has received a myriad of professional designations from ASQ including certified quality engineer, certified quality auditor, certified quality manager, certified mechanical inspector, certified reliability engineer, certified manager of quality and organizational excellence, and certified quality inspector.

Heavily invested in ASQ himself, Smith encourages everyone to become a member. In fact, his direct reports are required to be ASQ members, and they appreciate the effort that Smith puts forth.

Regg Glawe, MEC product quality manager, has worked for Smith for the past year. Coming from engineering and product development, Glawe says Smith’s coaching and guidance has helped him learn about quality systems and the importance of certification in respect to product quality. “Just learning the quality tools has been very good for me,” Glawe says. “I’m going to end up with a set of tools that I one day plan on taking back into the product development world and some of that discipline back into our engineering groups as well.”

But, Justin Driscoll, process quality manager, says Smith’s commitment extends beyond teaching the basic quality tools to basic management tools as well. “As much time as Jim puts in on quality systems and that discipline, he’s just as strong in people development and people skills. He makes sure that you understand how to take care of the groups that are working for you.”

Jim Sibley, product director, says Smith has been very active in helping develop people. “I see that as a thing I’ve learned. He’s very good at encouraging people to better themselves and encouraging them on all fronts.”

Because of his experience and background, coworkers seek out Jim Smith’s advice. Source: Caterpillar Inc., Jim Carlson, photographer

Knowledge Base

Jim Winn, a 6 Sigma Master Black Belt, and Smith worked together as inspectors in the test cells before computers were introduced. According to Winn, Smith has always stood his ground on quality. “You were not going to ship that engine out of the test cell unless it met all of the specifications that you were testing for,” Winn says.

After a few months Winn admits to patterning himself after Smith. “I liked what he was doing and I found that I had the courage to say we would only ship engines that met the quality requirements, because Jim had already set that expectation. It wasn’t too long before Jim and I got factory nicknames that I can’t really share,” Winn laughs. “It was really a name out of respect because we were tough inspectors and hard to get things past. I think he’s always kept that position throughout his career.”

Not only has Smith expanded the knowledge base of others, but he has expanded his own. Before going into management, Smith says he only saw things in black and white. “Either it was good or it was not. There was no in-between,” Smith explains. As he began his career in management, Smith received some advice from others already in management that changed his outlook. Smith recalls, “They said, ‘Jim, you’re a very strong technical guy. You’ve been in quality so long everyone knows that you’re a quality person, so you need to go try something different.’”

As it turns out, that very same day, Smith had the opportunity to choose between a management position in quality or in manufacturing. As a result of that conversation, Smith stepped outside of his comfort zone and took the job in manufacturing. “That was a really soul-searching decision for me, but it was a good decision,” he says.

Coworkers also seek out Smith’s knowledge. David P. Smith, product manager, refers to Smith as a quality lighthouse. David explains, “He always brings us back and is able to warn us of all the dangers when we’re headed for the rocky shore. He’s there with his incredible number of years of background and experience in what will work and what will not work. I think that has saved us an immense amount of time and money going down an unsafe or wrong path.”

Way of Life

“Not only is quality his job, it’s his life,” says Paul S. Carver, quality systems engineer. Carver reveals that a few years ago when Smith and his wife, Dianne, were remodeling their kitchen and having difficulty figuring out how to arrange all of the appliances and cabinets, they used a FMEA, a risk assessment technique for systematically identifying potential failures in a system or a process to design their kitchen.

While his passion and dedication for quality carry over into his personal life, Smith won’t classify himself as a workaholic. Terry Bratcher of MEC quality training says that Smith recently clarified that he only works half a day-sometimes it is the first 12 hours hours of the day, and other days it is the last 12 hours of the day.

Smith is relentless in his pursuit of quality. In addition to the many hours he spends on the job, on his own time Smith develops, teaches and makes available ASQ preparatory certification classes for Caterpillar employees locally and throughout the company via teleconferencing. Classes also are open to those in the community including contractors, suppliers, and hospital and government employees.

Smith estimates that over the years 2,000 people have gone through the courses at no charge. “For Caterpillar employees we provide textbooks and workbooks at no charge. We also pay for their certification exams. We’ll even pay a second time for their exam if they aren’t successful on their first try,” says Smith. “We expect the same commitment from other organizations who send their people for training. It’s all about the journey of learning about quality.”

All of Smith’s course instructors are volunteers as well. He tells people that after they are certified, he may tap them on the shoulder and ask them to teach a class. “That way you learn even more,” he explains.

Just how far will Smith’s pursuit of quality take him? This past winter the Mossville area was hit with a foot of snow overnight and 98% of the facility didn’t make it to work. Smith, who traditionally gets up early, started the trek to work in his two-wheel drive van about 3 a.m. Driscoll asked him, “’Jim, I couldn’t even get down my driveway, how did you get here?’” Jim’s response, “‘Well, don’t tell anyone, but I got about halfway here and couldn’t find any place to turn around.’”

And for Jim Smith, there is no turning back. Q

Eight Steps to Becoming a Quality Professional

Jim Smith, Operations Quality Manager for Caterpillar Inc.’s Mossville Engine Center, encounters people that take a job in quality but claim they don’t know anything about quality. He stresses, “Quality isn’t a separate thing you do; it’s in everything you do.”

For those interested in becoming a quality professional, Smith lays out an eight-step plan:

    1. Join the American Society for Quality (ASQ), an organization dedicated to quality. “It gives you an opportunity to network with other people and you learn from others,” Smith says.

    2. Benchmark and leapfrog. Read all of the quality-related magazines. “In time, you end up figuring out there are trends going on in the industry in a broad perspective,” Smith relates. Take the information and apply it to your own situation or company. “That provides the benchmark, then you leapfrog ahead to predict where people are going so you come up with that new twist yourself,” says Smith.

    3. Learn from the masters. “Anyone that talks for any length of time about quality is going to talk about Juran, Deming and Crosby,” says Smith, who has had the opportunity to meet all three of these quality gurus. “Who better to learn from than those gentlemen?”

    4. Master the quality tools. “If you’re going to be in quality, you’ve got to understand the various quality tools and how to apply them. Not every tool will be applicable to each opportunity but, as a package, they are critical to process improvement as well as important to your credibility as a quality professional,” says Smith. “No matter your role, you can use knowledge to improve yourself, your environment and to help others. Learning is a life-long commitment. It’s an investment in your personal development. You need to continue to invest in your future.”

    5. Build your base. Smith says it is important to step outside of one’s comfort zone to seek new opportunities and experiences. This helps to build an understanding of the business while at the same time providing the opportunity to apply tools that have been learned along the way. Smith says, “That base will add stability and will directly correlate with how far you can go and the types of things you can do.”

    6. Be passionate about quality. “No quality person can survive or be successful without being passionate about quality,” Smith says. “It takes passion to do what is right for your organization, the customer you represent and your organization’s shareholders. A quality professional needs to be able to display courage under fire. Quality, as with life, is not always black and white so a quality professional often finds himself operating in the gray zone.”

    7. Test your skills. One such way to test skills is to take the certification exams that ASQ offers. While certification will give quality professionals credibility, Smith says the true importance lies in the journey of learning about quality.

    8. Remember the human side of quality. “The most important thing that I have been preaching my whole career is the human side of quality is at least as important as the technical side of quality. You can teach people how to do process PFMEAs or DFMEAs or control charts or design of experiments-you can teach people how to go do that,” stresses Smith. “But you can’t teach them to have that passion, that dedication, that commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. So at the end of the day it’s about people. People have to do the job and they have to be motivated to go do that job well.” Quality professionals have an obligation to share their knowledge with others. Smith says, “We need to take time to mentor others. Most will not reach the heights of the quality giants but being a practicing quality professional is well within our grasp.”

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