Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Passion for Quality

I accidentally became involved in Quality at the end of 1999. I was working as a team leader in the Production department and I thought that the inspections and audits done by the Quality department were very interesting. It looked like they knew what they were doing and could handle difficult situations, even arguing with the Supervisor if necessary. So I applied for a position and I was accepted. I started as a Quality Engineer in early 2000 and since I was the lowest level person in the department I was sent to the customers when we had quality problems. I had a lot of experience in dealing with irate customers and finding solutions to their problems. Typically the solutions that I would define, together with Engineering, would involve either changing the design or adding a new machine to the process. I was clearly told by my Manager that either option was not possible and that I would have to find a different way to solve the problem. It was at that time that I started to hone my problem solving abilities by finding simple, often unorthodox, ways to solve problems. They weren't pretty but they worked well and they were cheap. That was really the start of my passion for quality, when I discovered that I could use my creativity to solve customer problems.

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.