Probing the limits: Quality Holidays

June 1, 2007
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The holidays celebrating parenthood may seem totally disconnected from the disciplines involved with the quality assurance profession, but parenthood may have more to do with quality than anything else.

Parents lay the foundation for their kids’ understanding of right and wrong. Parents usually play the main role in helping a child develop and value personal integrity. This training that parents give the next generation forms the root foundation of the quality profession.

One simple definition of quality is that quality is the measure of the goodness of something. To measure quality, goodness needs to be understood-and that understanding comes from what your parents taught you.

Some measures of quality and goodness can be straightforward, such as measuring a dimension on a part. The challenging issues in quality, where QA departments play a key strategic role, are much more difficult and really come down to an issue of character and personal integrity.

As a quality professional, will you go over your boss’s head to stop a shipment that you and your staff don’t feel good about? Will you oppose a well-liked cost savings because it involves a supplier with a bad track record? These are the tough quality issues where you draw on what your parents taught you, not what you learned during your ASQ certification training.

It is interesting to compare the value of good parenting to the value of some well-established element in the quality profession such as ISO 9000. As readers of this column know, I’ve never been a fan of ISO 9000. Even the most ardent ISO 9000 supporters agree that there are many ISO 9000-registered companies that produce poor quality products. Supporters and opponents to the standard often agree that the adoption of ISO 9000 has little impact on the overall quality culture in an organization.

What matters is the intent and the approach to quality that the company takes. If the key people in the company care about the merit of their products, then quality will be good and will continue to improve-with or without ISO 9000. If they don’t have pride in their work or don’t care about what they push out the door, implementing ISO 9000 won’t make a difference.

I often wonder about the people that make decisions or go along with pushing bad product out the door. Did they have bad parents or have they disregarded what their good parents taught them? What do they teach their kids?

In any event, when bad product knowingly goes out the door, it is not an issue of a paragraph of ISO 9000 being violated or an incident that needs root cause investigation. It’s an issue of character that is developed and molded by parents at an early age.

One might think that not taking a stand on a tough quality issue is the easy way out, but that’s never been my experience. Making poor quality decisions and not standing up for what is right usually snowballs into a much worse situation down the road.  Good parents teach their kids that doing the right thing from the beginning is the way to minimize problems-and simply the right way to go through life.

I’ve faced some tough quality problems over the years. As I wrestled with these issues, I didn’t reach for the ISO standard or Juran’s Quality Control Handbook. I had to access what my parents taught me as a child to get the right answer to the product quality issues I was facing. The right answer was usually the most difficult one in the short term but was always the one that left me feeling good about myself in the long run. That’s important because I’ve got to live with myself.

These holidays are a good time to think about how you are helping the kids in your life grow and develop into quality individuals.  Do you talk with them about right and wrong?  Have you shared stories about the implications of making quality decisions and bad decisions in your life? 

Take a moment and think about the role your parents or other people special in your life have played in your ability to make quality decisions and to feel good about yourself.

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