Quality Magazine

Mission: Assurance

June 4, 2009
A mission assurance officer could be an invaluable asset to an organization.



Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.

Over the years, companies have systematically removed what I like to refer to as the “real inspectors.” I am referring to the trained NDT professionals whose mission in life is to protect their organization’s integrity, reputation and liability. Sadly, the growing popularity of lean and Six Sigma has put this mission to rest for many of today’s NDT inspectors.

Wikipedia defines an inspector as “both a police rank and an administrative position, both used in a number of contexts. However, it is not an equivalent rank in each police force. An agency may have an Inspector General responsible for preventing internal fraud, waste, abuse and other agency deficiencies.”

I find this definition to be confusing and ambiguous, and I can see why organizations fear the NDT inspector who is always looking over someone’s shoulder with hopes of finding mistakes that will justify his existence.

However, this scenario does not ring true in all cases. In fact, human survival instincts will dictate that if an NDT inspector, or any employee for that matter, identifies red flags-such as the purchase of their company as a bolt-on resource for a larger organization-this will drive that employee to justify his position within the company.

As humans, when we are in survival mode we tend to act irrationally; as an NDT inspector this could mean overestimating the impact of a system, process or product nonconformity. Unfortunately, this will ultimately result in a loss of inspector credibility, primarily because the organization has given the inspector a reputation that is often self-defeating.

For example, one day I came across a job description that essentially sets the NDT inspector up for failure: “The NDT quality inspector will inspect parts as directed by engineering directives and the quality/production manager and will identify, record and process identified nonconformities using tools such as root cause, corrective actions, continuous improvement, internal audits and other measurement and analysis techniques as applicable. The inspector will be trained in and understand statistical techniques such as SPC, cause and effect, Six Sigma, standard deviation, etc. as applicable to meet the needs of the customer, organization, regulatory and statutory requirements.”

There are quite a few things wrong with this job description, and if I had my way, I would eliminate terms used to describe positions in organizations, such as quality manager, quality management and quality inspectors. The word quality is an ambiguous term with many meanings. Quality is determined by the intended users, clients or customers and not by society in general. It is not the same as expensive or high quality. Even goods with low prices can be considered quality items if they meet a market need.

Many international standards, such as ISO 9001: 2008 and AS9100C have recognized the challenges associated with globalization and outsourcing. As such, it is time we not only revise our management systems but also redefine the custodians of these changes-the NDT inspector or quality manager.

A quality manager’s role within an organization is essentially to assure that the mission of the organization aligns with customer, regulatory and statutory requirements. Therefore, instead of the ambiguous title of quality manger, perhaps organizations could come up with a more fitting title, such as “mission assurance officer.” This individual would be responsible for ensuring that all contractual obligations and product requirements are met by the organization.

In the revised international standards, such as ISO 9001: 2008, you will see the rationale behind the shift from quality requirements to customer, organization, regulatory and statutory requirements as the foundation to the mission of all modern-day aerospace, defense and manufacturing organizations. If NDT inspectors and quality management professionals fail to ensure that their organization is meeting these requirements, then they have not met their obligation as a mission assurance officer.

In my next column I will describe the qualities of a good mission assurance officer and provide examples of why organizations need to adjust their mindsets to promote the success of their NDT inspectors and quality management professionals.