Manufacturing Excellence: Excel in the Quality Department

June 2, 2008
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Quality is a measure of excellence in manufacturing. A typical quality department in manufacturing is engaged in designing inspection plans, control plans and setting up control charts. Does it ensure quality? Does it help in achieving manufacturing excellence? Does it make the company more profitable? We need to challenge each department by asking its value proposition. Quality departments must not be immune from questions such as, “How is it adding value?”

Introspection and probing value proposition leads to further questions about the purpose of a quality department. We may learn the purpose as to ensure customer satisfaction, to ensure outgoing quality or help manufacturing. However, such purposes of the quality department do not help a company. The purpose of a quality department is to ensure profit margins by reducing inefficiencies, operations errors and product defects. In addition, the purpose also must include proactively improving capability and capacity of operations through new methods, tools or skills.

Most quality departments are forced to be timid by operations people. They are told to do things such as add inspection, respond to a customer complaint or similar such requests. Quality departments are considered an unwanted cost and a burden because they add no apparent value; they are considered to be cost of doing business.

Thinking of excellence in the quality department will lead us to define our value proposition, and facilitate excellence in every department. Excellence in every department means helping each department in defining and identifying excellence such that it contributes to the profitable growth of the organization. This must then highlight departments that are not contributing to the profitable growth, or issues adversely affecting it.

If a company has a vice president (VP) of quality, then he must advise the CEO to focus on profitable growth through positive behaviors, inspiration, synergy and demand for excellence. If this cannot be accomplished, or the vice president is not heard at the executive level, the quality department is impotent to begin with. Without such assertions, quality departments cannot add value. Leading a quality department is not a job; instead, it is the role of an evangelist and a counselor. If we cannot create a quality state of mind at the executive level, it cannot filter down to the management level.

Excellence in the quality department means establishing clear targets in terms of its contribution to profitability, reduction in cost of quality through less inspection and test, and developing new skills. The main purpose of the quality department boils down to striving for perfection in critical processes and supporting activities toward sustaining profitable growth. Such a purpose will lead to identifying activities in the quality department such as quality thinking across the corporation, establishing targets in every department for defining perfection, enabling effective processes and documentation in each department, methods of verifying performance against targets, the capability and drive to overcome problems, and the ability to assess corporate performance in achieving business objectives. These are not easy tasks, but quality folks must be willing to work smart and hard.

I have found that quality professionals see their jobs in two categories, either as a leader or as a manager. A quality leader finds opportunities to create value through his ever-changing role, while adapting to the organization’s needs. The quality leader foresees problems, collaborates and addresses them proactively.

On the other hand, a quality manager passes time at work, performs routine things, and when problems occur, blames the process owner. Quality professionals at all levels must see their role as a leader driving value throughout the organization. Just like other areas in the company, every quality professional must strive for perfection, outgrow the job and create new opportunities for everyone, including oneself.

The quality profession is at a critical juncture and must be viewed for its value proposition in the globally competitive environment, and its fundamental intent for its existence.

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