One of my quality engineering students asked if there was such a thing as internal quality consultants. She seemed surprised when I remarked that she was (or should be) already working as a consultant whether she knew it or not. I went on to explain that my almost half century of work in a Fortune 50 company was spent encouraging quality professionals to enrich their position by assuming a role of internal consultant.
In reality, most people working in a quality role are already doing this, but they just haven’t recognized the connection. For instance, a quality inspector provides machinists and assemblers with on-the-job training about how to determine or ensure the quality of a product. In the performance of their daily tasks, a quality inspector instructs in metrology (handling or using measurement equipment) and interpreting engineering drawings. The concept is to work yourself out of this ‘training’ job as machinists and assemblers become more proficient in self-inspection. The quality inspector then can concentrate on helping to make processes more robust.
Calibration technicians teach quality inspectors and operations staff how to care for and check their instruments and other equipment. They also continually research new and improved measuring devices and make purchase recommendations to process engineers and other operations staff. Most calibration technicians spend a lot of their time as liaisons between the factory operations personnel and the manufacturing processors as well as measurement equipment providers to ensure the appropriate level of precision is being provided.
Quality engineers are best positioned to develop an alliance with operations, product engineering, service management, and other functions to help identify areas for process improvement. Organizations spend a lot of money with external consultants when, most of the time, they have a vast array of internal consults to drive that improvement. Quality engineers should be used to facilitate cross functional process improvement teams or serve as a liaison between operations and external consultants on process reengineering initiatives.
In many organizations, a quality engineer serves as the management representative for their ISO9001 quality system implementation. They plan and implement the program to instruct employees in the basic principles, techniques, and tools of quality, lean, and Six Sigma.
Quality engineers can demonstrate to senior management the value of having their expertise involved in the organization’s strategic planning process. Quality engineers can be a significant resource in the development of a knowledge database of lessons learned, quality tools and techniques, and resources. If an organization wants to apply for a Baldrige type award, what better resource can be utilized than the quality engineer function?
It is sad that some organizational management can be totally unaware of the important benefits of their quality professionals. In fact many organizations dismiss these functions as non-value-added or, at the very least, not a core competency. But, how can organizations produce quality product efficiently without these internal consultants who best know their organization’s culture! However, quality professionals can help ensure their value is fully utilized by taking a few steps.
Get out from behind the desk and go to where the action is (typically the factory). Observe where a process improvement is needed. Most of time improvement is not difficult to detect. Look for bottlenecks, stockpiles of in process material, and nonconforming material tags—always telltale signs of needed improvement. When in doubt, talk to operations personnel and ask where they need help. Partner with area management to identify an improvement plan and along with their support start the improvement process.
Don’t be shy about unleashing your creative and innovative attributes. Reach out for opportunities to enrich your job and those with whom you come in contact. Approach a colleague as someone willing to jointly bring about positive change. Don’t be afraid of failure and be sure to share credit for successes. Good advice is to give away more credit than you take as you’ll learn that giving credit always comes back in multiples. It can never be fully given away.
Be careful, however, the work you do beyond your current responsibilities does not detract from your primary duties. As time passes and successes are noticed it is not surprising that many quality roles expand, resulting in promotions, higher pay grades, salary increases, and other benefits.
In case you’re still thinking about ‘working yourself out of a job,’ don’t be; this is more an internal work ethic. In spite of the risk, I personally spent 45 years with this thought and was never out of a job! There is no reason to believe you will be either so start reinventing the scope of your job because there is only an upside.