Quality Assurance depends upon operations and strategy, not the other way around (part 2)

In part 1 of this article, I indicated that Quality Assurance is, by definition, a function that ought to be at the forefront of an organization’s operations (click here to see part 1).  Unfortunately, Quality Assurance tends to become less about understanding and improving the environment to prevent defects and more about inspection and detection of defects.  To truly assure quality, however, it is necessary to examine the mindset under which upstream errors occur.

Are people compliant, but bored?  Is the work environment interesting, or dull?  In spite of proclamations of “people being our greatest asset” has there been a round of layoffs?  Are middle managers who are great at meeting targets and gaining the favor of senior management known for being difficult to work for?  Are production schedules met only through heroics? Do managers strive to make work easier for people, or demand compliance and employ a small army of auditors to make sure they get it?  Why do such management styles take hold in the first place?

Thos questions rarely get asked and, when they do, are rarely part of an open dialog between employees at the individual contributor level and those higher up in the organization.  Yet, that is where the prevention of defects occurs – when open, honest criticism up, down, left and right becomes not just accepted, but encouraged.  To truly achieve Quality Assurance, over and above Quality Control, there needs to be a focus on the aspects of workplace behavior beyond performing audits and inspections – there needs to be a focus on why the types of conversations that would expose suboptimal behaviors and their underlying beliefs are not happening.

Usually, it is due to some constraint that says those below do not openly communicate with those above.  Achieving genuine Quality Assurance depends upon this sort of dynamic – multi-level conversation provides an opportunity for those closest to customers and products to directly influence the strategic direction and operational norms of the organization.  Otherwise, decisions are made that guide the company into developing products it will either not develop well, or into markets it does not understand.  The end result is the same in either case – products that are poorly perceived in the marketplace, do not sell, and that stress the organization to the point of failure.

Quality assurance is not about catching defects before they get to the customer.  It is about putting everyone in the organization on good footing in order to be successful.  Aligning the strategic and operational functions through a constant feedback loop assures that both products and strategy complement, reinforce and correct each other to the delight of both customers and employees alike.


Today’s guest post was written by David M. Kasprzak.  David has worked with all levels of management in large commercial organizations and government agencies on budget development, project planning & performance measurement. Over the course of his career, he has realized that it is the qualitative elements of work that determine success or failure.  Based on this realization, he began to explore the principles of Operational Excellence and Lean process improvement, and apply those concepts to other areas of both work and life.  In 2010, David created the My Flexible Pencil blog to share his ideas on these topics.

A husband and father, he lives with his wife and 2 sons in Litchfield, NH where he continues work in project controls, contemplate methods for improving the workplace, and seek his own sense of work/life integration.

Please check out My Flexible Pencil and leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar), retweet, digg, or stumble this article.  You can check out my Facebook page and continue the discussion there as well.  Your feedback is appreciated.

About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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