Who is Responsible for Quality?
Just who is responsible for quality; the customer or the processor or the supplier? Dr. Juran said they were all responsible for quality.
The customer must share in the responsibilities to produce a product that is fit for use. They must:
- Transmit the needs to the supplier
- Provide feedback to the supplier
- Obtain feedback from the supplier
Transmitting the need is fairly clear. Provide accurate information as to specifications, delivery and expected costs. Providing feedback to the supplier is also easy to understand, if the product is unsatisfactory, tell them.
It is also necessary to provide positive feedback. At one company a customer service rep always did a little more for her clients. She would follow up on orders and check on their progress, not just in the MRP system but going out to the factory and making periodic physical checks. Thanks to her efforts more than a few errors were prevented. However, her supervisor had a performance measurement of time taking calls. When the rep was in the factory she wasn’t taking calls. There was no feedback system to her supervisor as to the effectiveness and importance of her actions so it did not appear on her performance reviews. Ultimately the rep was terminated.
The last bullet is one that is normally left out. Some of this comes from the concept “the customer is always right” or as one person put it “he who has the gold rules. The customer has the gold.” We supplied a product to an automotive manufacturer. The specification for the nut placement on the bolt was “8 mm max from the end”. Product shipped to specification. The first shift had been trained to slip on the product over both parts and tighten the nut. This was only possible if the nut had been backed off to the end of the bolt. The second shift slipped the product on one side and later inserted the other side. With the bolt backed off, the product would fall off before the assembly could be completed. Both shifts rejected the parts continually for the nut placement. The customer was furious over our “poor quality” back charging us and threatening to pull the business. They were not interested in hearing the cause of the problem. We were ordered to “fix it!” The fix – we sent our sales staff in once a month on both shifts to train the operators. The issue belonged to the customer they needed a mechanism to receive feedback.
The people and equipment producing the product are the most common owners of quality. They must:
- Plan the process to meet the customer needs
- Control the process to meet the customer needs
- Improve the process based on customer feedback
This is the focus of most corrective actions and many people end up with the misconception that the processors own the quality responsibilities. This is not true. Quality is everyone’s job.
In my example of the customer service rep being fired for proactively checking in the factory, how many people caught the fact that she was addressing a symptom of poor quality and not the root cause? Since she was finding repeated mistakes in the process which would have produced poor quality parts, she should have gone to the person in charge and pointed out the situation. That should have resulted in root cause analysis and corrective action and she would not have needed to be in the factory.
The supplier is the company as a whole that takes and order and provides a good or service. The supplier is also the previous step in the process. It is imperative that the supplier:
- Knows who are the customers
- Understands the needs of the customers
- Avoid creating problems for the customers
- Obtains feedback from the customers
As a company it is not enough to understand your own product and offer a “take it or leave it” attitude. The world is competitive and someone else is willing to step in and understand the customer’s needs and deliver exactly what they need, when they need it. A supplier must understand how the product is being used and proactively offer goods or services that best fit the customer needs. In the example of the nut position, we did offer to make two part numbers with the only difference being the nut location. The down side was maintaining inventories so the ultimate solution was for our staff to train the customer’s operators. Once we went in and talked to the people using the parts we were able to come up with a solution that avoided a problem for the customer. Did the customer fail to take on the responsibility to train their operators? Yes. Did we step up and solve the customer problem? Yes.
In the case of the internal customer, it is important to know how our product/subassembly/service is used. At one plant, a subassembly was a piece of cord cut to a set length and dropped into a gaylord then shipped across the ocean. At the next step the operator would attach the cord to a hook and wind the cord up, securing it with a rubber-band. As you can imagine the cords were twisted and tangled together and difficult to separate, wasting a great deal of time and frustrating the operator. The ultimate solution was to buy the cord in spools and set up a machine to attach the cord, measure and cut to length and automatically wind it. As an interim step the people cutting the cord would wind and rubber-band it with a tail sticking out to have the hook attached. The time to do the next operation was cut to a fraction of the original time. An interesting by-product was the wound cords took up less space and decreased the shipping cost as well.
Quality is everyone’s responsibility. It is the customer’s responsibility, the processor’s responsibility and the supplier’s responsibility. When each takes their responsibilities and acts on it the overall cost goes down and the quality improves.