Think for a moment about that cup of coffee, or ice cream cone or bowl of soup from a popular corner spot. What happens to the overall customer experience if the person at the counter is having a very bad day? If they are rude, if they get the orders mixed up, or if they do not know how to run the register, all of these things can have a major impact on the day’s customers. The same is true for the person at the end of a manufacturing process. Quality auditors may ship a defective product as a good product or ship the wrong product altogether. It is obvious that the last people involved in a process have a major effect on the quality and, in turn, the reputation of the company.

What may not be as obvious is that everyone involved in the process has an effect on the product, the perception of its quality and customer’s final experience. With that favorite cup of coffee, what if to save money the company switched from distilled water to filtered water. Or what if an employee forgets to rinse the utensils between each serving? What will it do to that cappuccino on a random Tuesday morning? If a worker does not understand the importance of one missed step, or one bad part in the process, they will not think it is important to correct their mistakes. As technology advances and products get more complicated, more variables affect the final product. Will the process detect one defective part in a product that could contain hundreds of parts? Will the final audit detect one missed step in a process that could contain thousands of steps? The best way to limit mistakes is to provide as much information as possible at each step of the process.

Everyone involved in bringing a product or service to market needs to understand his or her imprint on the quality of the product and the impression on the end-user experience of the service. An increasing number of products rely on software and hardware integration. Technology cannot replace the human experience. As automation increases, people need to recognize their importance in the manufacturing processes that produce industrial and consumer products. Machines need adjustments due to wear and tear. Equipment requires repairs due to breakdowns. People who are using these technologies every day need to understand a slight change in any step in the process can change the finished product. What happens if the truck that transports the dairy goods to the ice cream shop has a defective refrigeration system? How will it change the taste of that favorite scoop of gelato? What happens if the vision system that checks part alignment needs adjustment? What happens if the nesting in a production fixture is showing signs of wear? Who will notice first, the quality manager or the maintenance technician? It should be the worker at the step of the process in question.

As companies use lighter and cheaper materials to produce goods, simple two-way communication is the key to quality assurance. From the new employee to the person who is ready to retire, from the top executive to the person on the production line or the person at the counter, explain and demonstrate how each step of the process can change the product for better or for worse. Also, ask for feedback, tips and improvement suggestions from not only your managers and customers, but also the people throughout the process. If management expects employees to care about quality, then the employees have to know that management cares about quality, too. Think about that lobster bisque from the busy lunch spot, what happens if management changes the ingredients to save money? The accountant should check with the chef before altering the recipe. What happens to the way a new cell phone behaves if the hardware and software testing is incomplete? Will it still be the favorite of the loyal customers? Will the first-time customer give it a second chance?

Quality improvement programs need to contain three levels of information and training: basic training that everyone should complete to perform his or her job, intermediate training for those who want to work on quality improvement projects, and expert-level training for those who lead initiatives. Recognize and reward both individuals as they attain each level and the team when the company reaches quality improvement goals. Lastly, for a top-level award, add audit positions to the qualified employee rotation schedule so that everyone can see the commitment to quality in action. Collectively, people make things better or worse. Everyone needs to understand their impact on quality.