Searching over headlines, it is difficult to believe there is quality in American products and services. News accounts stress the negative—the quality failures that cost companies millions, cause consumers grief, and result in death. 

Headlines blurt announcements of product recalls and safety violations. And while these stories might be about companies outside your industry, the lessons are universal for quality authorities in every industry. It is also from these stories that we understand how negligence and ignorance never justify a decision. Quality processes need to be in place and need to be taken seriously.

Canada witnessed the largest beef recall in its country’s history last year. E. coli tainted beef was traced back to the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency found that the plant was not complying with mandatory tests, nor was it documenting processes that would have assisted them in finding the root cause of the problem. 

Luckily there were only 18 documented cases of E. coli poisoning. But XL Foods lost millions in revenue and the Lakeside XL Foods plant was sold to JBS Canada in January 2013. JBS purchased additional XL Foods plants in April. What started as an isolated incident of E. coli is a continuing saga of lost business and uncertain futures. In July, JBS executives hosted government officials at the Lakeside plant to show them the numerous improvements made since January. This appears to be the bright side of the story.

It is too early to identify the bright side of the many car recalls taking place over the summer. Right now, root causes are being identified and, it is assumed, corrections have been applied.

Before we go any further, this might be a good time to stress that this story has not been written to point fingers or shame anyone into using quality processes. However, it is meant to be a warning to all quality professionals AND executive management.

Quality processes and standards have been designed to keep products from breaking, improve services, and ensure material safety. But quality processes only work as long as the people relegated to quality become owners of the processes. A strong culture of quality must be in place.

In “Tribal Quest” (Quality Progress, December 2011, John Dew explains that in a culture of quality, employees do not work around problems. Staff identify and solve issues, upholding the continuous improvement principles of the organization.

While quality methods and processes can prevent catastrophes, quality is not able to reverse the immediate effects of catastrophes. Prevention happens only when the people involved are engaged, if they regard what they are doing as relevant and important. 

In a recent interview for ASQ TV, James Buckman, president of Buckman Associates, mentioned that quality companies are in business for something bigger than returns to shareholders. The best companies, he explains, “have a long-term view. ‘We intend to do great things. We intend to be epic and honorable over long periods of time.’ And when you look at the great organizations, they’re explicit about that. That’s not some kind of an accident that shows up periodically. It’s really rooted in the DNA of the organization.” 

It is up to individual organizations to decide what role quality will play throughout the enterprise. There is no one correct way to implement quality, but there are plenty of ways to do it incorrectly. 

Quality is good for business. Quality also needs to be viewed as doing good for everyone. 


Below is a list of articles and a podcast that shed light on the practices you can take to improvement your processes, your product, and your service. 

“Use Quality Tools to Establish Specifications—Podcast”— Janet Raddatz details how to use quality tools while developing and revising your specifications, a great communications tool between you and your supplier.

“Lesson Learned”—While this 2010 article references the large Toyota recall, this Henry Lindberg article offers sound advice still applicable today (Quality Progress, April 2010).

“Time-Relevant Metrics in an Era of Continuous Process Improvement: The Balanced Scorecard Revisited”—Richard Schonberger explains the benefit of developing strong links between performance metrics and your continuous improvement plan (Quality Management Journal, July 2013).