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Who’s responsible for quality around here?

People wearing several hats?

Every company has some form of quality department, whether it be embedded into someone’s role in a very small SME, (where people wear several hats) which might have a general manager running around doing three jobs. Right through to huge global superpowers who have administrators, officers, coordinators, managers, directors, and vice presidents (the list goes on) with a quality tag stuck on the front of their roles, totalling 100’s of people within a large organisation.

On the front of it, it might look like the larger companies care more about quality, but this isn’t always the case. Yes, they have more people and do more business (larger by definition) but the quality impact potential of both companies is still 100% if quality is embedded correctly. What is quality impact potential I hear you ask? It’s simple – the ability to have influence from every angle, everywhere in an organisation. In safety this is often referred to as an ‘interdependent safety culture’. Quality is no different – if it can be achieved, that is, and a culture certainly exists, or it doesn’t exist.

Every single person has a role to play

I’d argue any size company has 100% potential within them to infiltrate every employee that works there to be part of and play their part in quality in some way regardless of their job title, department or location. This ‘culture’ of quality doesn’t always appear or thrive in every organisation – its always there of course by department roles and activities existing, but if an organisation can convince its workforce that every single person has a role to play – and they duly play that role fully, then it can saturate the organisation in a positive way beyond their current ways of working.

Every role has some form of quality aspect linked to it

Is quality in every company purely down to these people with a quality tag on their title or every manager? No – literally every role in any company has some form of quality aspect linked to it -whether that be following a process or instruction, interfacing with the quality department or providing a service to a customer/internal stakeholder, or carrying out their tasks correctly in a set manner, it’s all quality just different forms.

Can a quality department capture every single defect, catch every non conformity or problem the company experiences? No, they can’t, it’s impossible.  So, in a world of improvement this ‘interdependent culture for quality’ is the only way an organisation can thrive and get better at doing quality.

“This ones for the quality department”

A common phrase amongst businesses everywhere.This is an important aspect of any business to capture issues and share them – but the real question is ‘how many of these issues are missed and never seen or overlooked and not reported at all?’ The value if such is missed, is it can’t be reported or actioned – this hinges massively on the appetite of the business and that ‘interdependency’ that may or may not exist. For every employee to understand their role in a quality sense is key and for them to play their part of course.

Entwined with safety, quality is very similar in that while departments and roles exist in all companies, the mantle for driving improvement must come from a consistent application across a company going far further than a quality department, its everyone else – not the quality department!

The quality department has a significant role to play in any organisation and that role depends largely on two factors:

  1. the appetite of the company to embrace and drive change through quality planning and commitment (people, financial and reputation reasons)
  2. the need to get it right for customers, interested parties and to some degree regulators and certifiers.

Any quality department will define objectives, maintain systems and drive continuous improvement through applying quality techniques to business systems, provide analysis and tooling to what it is they do as a business. This coupled with internal analysis, audits and achieving external certification and compliance to remain competitive, in the market they are in, drives a level of quality but the layer beneath this is that next ‘Tutankhamun tomb’ full of quality gold. Embedding that quality ferret inside every single employer to reap the benefits from every single person, embracing that quality element in every task they do. This starts with the individual themselves, their line managers and localised team right through and across to the quality individuals inside a company.

Digging to find that tomb

Many companies might be digging to find that ‘tomb’ and putting ‘spades in their employee’s hands’ to try and find it, whilst others are looking in the wrong place, applying the wrong elements and some are not even searching for the tomb at all. Trying to plod along with that guy or girl running around with three hats on, doing it all, and working the way they always have worked…

Quality in one business can be completely different to quality in another and this variance does leave room for interpretation and gaps. It also paves the way for opportunities, improvement and potential for any company of any size to get it right, this is the ideal of the quality approach.

Quality has changed so much

We have seen through the history of quality a real change in how quality is governed by stakeholders and suppliers. In the early years pre-war time, people and businesses bought items local to them with very little risk involved. Quality back then was judged as the ‘product’ and there was very few regulations or requirements to adhere to. Nowadays quality has changed so much up to including customers wanting specific items manufactured for them and them only, to a world of heavy regulation and governance on what you can and cannot do, a very competitive world with suppliers everywhere globally competing for custom, along with the product(s) you supply now being seen as your company image, brand and reputation all in one go carrying a much higher business risk to your end customer.

In summary the word quality can mean different things to different people, but for an organisation it should mean one thing and have everyone onboard the same boat, heading in the one direction, rowing at the same time, with the same passion.  Regardless of who is rowing that boat or how many are in that boat.