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Quality Remix: More on Quality - More on Management

March 22, 2010
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My previous two columns have sparked some interesting and lengthy discussions on LinkedIn. The central themes of these columns addresses whether quality should be an independent function, and whether putting someone in charge of quality who has no experience in the field demonstrates a lack of respect for quality. These themes are closely related.

My previous two columns (here and here) have sparked some interesting and lengthy discussions on LinkedIn.

The central themes of these columns addressed whether quality should be an independent function, and whether putting someone in charge of quality who has no experience in the field demonstrates a lack of respect for quality. In my view, these two themes are closely related to one another.

A quality organization should have competent people who work in an environment where they are free to make sure that products meet quality and engineering requirements and are not under management pressure to do what is best for production and the company’s “bottom line.”

My blog, More on Quality, is about situations that should not happen, but do. Because of my experience, my blog is generally about what goes wrong in quality organizations, particularly large (aerospace) companies.

My comments are not intended to be universal truths. While the situations I’ve described are not common, they do happen….more often in some companies and perhaps not at all in others, but they shouldn’t happen at all.

When a person is put in charge of a technical function he (or she) knows little about, problems may result. If an aerospace company wants a competent QA department, they must have managers who are technically well-qualified and who also have experience in QA.

Working in aerospace quality requires specific technical knowledge in areas such as nondestructive testing (NDT), engineering requirements, stress analysis and applications involving metals, composites and other materials. The danger, here, is that a manager who doesn’t possess this knowledge still has the authority to overrule those who know a lot more about the subject than he does. The manager may make decisions that others advise him are wrong, but he has the authority to ignore their concerns.

It is not a certainty that a person with no experience will always do a bad job or that a person can't learn about a subject and eventually become a good manager-but, I maintain that it is not a good idea, especially in aerospace. Hiring a technically weak manager greatly increases the probability that wrong decisions will be made. It is unwise, risky and can lead to disaster.

This situation is not unique to quality; it also exists in many other technical areas. Would it be wise to have someone managing a stress engineering department without an engineering degree and with no experience or qualifications in stress engineering? That situation also could lead to disaster.

It has been my pleasure to work with a lot of excellent QA engineers and managers in my career, but I’ve also encountered some incompetent ones and a few who were corrupted by their desire to please upper management. As much as we would like to believe that everyone has the integrity and competence they should have, some do not. Consider what the Wall Street financial organizations and large banks have done in recent years…and probably always have done.

In recent history, two space shuttles were destroyed in large part because people in positions of authority made decisions regarding technical issues that they didn’t understand.

Toyota is now facing a huge expense because of multiple recalls involving thousands of cars. Toyota’s management has apologized for ignoring a problem after it was brought to their attention numerous times for several years. The car company has been looked on as an industry leader in quality-but they failed to deal with the problem. They have admitted that they put production and profit ahead of safety and quality.

Fortunately, only a small number people were reportedly killed by the Toyota accelerator problem, and this was only a small percentage of those who experienced the malfunction. If a critical part in a commercial airliner fails during flight, everyone aboard could die.

Companies that allow an unqualified person to be a quality manager do not understand the extent of specific knowledge that is required, have no respect for quality, or don't want a quality department that will interfere with production.

Let's continue this discussion. I'd like to hear your continued thoughts!

More on Quality in a few months.
Read all More on Quality postings here.
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