Saturday, November 26, 2011
So, what is QUALITY? There are various definitions, from the metaphysical (Persig) to the practical (Juran, et. al.) to the casual. For our discussion I want to consider two aspects of quality, subjective and objective. Ask someone, "does this have good quality?" and point to anything in your environment. If you ask several people, you might get different answers based on their experience, education and field of work. This is known as subjective quality. On the other hand, if you have a specification and you measure a product against it (e.g. an ink pen with plastic barrel OD of 4 +/- 0.1mm) and it is within the specification then you can say that it also has good quality. This is objective quality. Our business, our life, is a combination of these two aspects of quality and there are endless books, articles and lectures available to explore either or both aspects. I think that the subjective aspect, measured qualitatively, gets short shrift in business as the inane mindsets of "you can't manage what you can't measure" and "if you don't have data you only have an opinion" rule the business world. Life is more than quantitative measures and business--as part of life--is also more than quantitative measures. Qualitative/subjective quality is a big part of our lives, so the better question is not "what is quality?" but "what is quality to you?".
For me, it means adding value to the world, to society. Making people's lives better, in even tiny ways. I've worked in manufacturing for almost 14 years with most of that time in some kind of "Quality" function in the automotive industry, arguably one of the most regulated and competitive industries in the world. My role in the Quality department has changed over time with changing business conditions and the responsibilities of my specific positions. My thinking also changed for those reasons and due to my experience and education. Now I see that even though I play a large role in a large company the direction that I give and the actions that I take influence only a tiny part of the world. My sphere of influence includes several dozen people directly, and my audience includes several thousand through this blog and my postings on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. The results of my work affect the drivers of certain automobiles in global markets and the patients in some hospitals. All of this influence, added together, is but a small drop in the ocean of the world. However, I know that it does make people's lives better and, for now, it is the limit of my influence and voice. I will never stop trying to add value and improve the condition of the world, in big or small ways.
What about you? What does quality mean, from your heart? What do you do about it? What do you want to do?
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The more that I worked in Quality the more I was able to apply my reasoning and creativity to causes further up the manufacturing stream, into Purchasing and eventually Design. I found that it was much easier and cheaper to fix a problem in the Design phase rather than in the Production phase. After I was trained as a Six Sigma Black Belt I learned that statistical tools could not only be applied to manufacturing processes but also could be applied to product and process design. In fact, it made more sense to apply them there rather than in production. This also sharpened my thinking about problem solving and led to looking for ways to prevent problems. During this time my passion for Quality continued to grow.
Working in Japan for more than three years, as Head of Quality for an automotive supplier, really refocused my attention on meeting customer expectations. The automotive customers in Japan are the most demanding in the world, and it took a lot of effort for me to learn their unique style of working and also to adapt my thinking to the Japanese style. The effort was worthwhile and I can say that my thinking about Quality, and many other things, was permanently altered by my experience there. The Japan office was also a Design center so I could directly influence the design of the products with my ideas about Quality. I also better understood the challenges of the Design group. I came to see Quality with a greater passion than before, seeing how it truly linked with all aspects of the company.
Now I am in China working with a new team and with new challenges. I see the tremendous opportunities in this country and I see the tremendous difficulties. I will work here in Shanghai for the next three years and I am sure that my thinking will be influenced again by this new culture. Starting in Michigan and then working through Japan and now China, I continue to learn; now I can teach others based on my education and experience. I think that learning and teaching will help me to continue to grow my passion for Quality now and in the future.