At a recent lunch in a Chinese restaurant with our vice president of Technical Services, one of the topics on our plate was quality control in plants. We spent a considerable amount of time talking passionately about quality standards in the precast concrete industry, the NPCA QC Manual and other related topics that the diners around us probably found esoteric and boring. Not to us.
Are the expectations spelled out in the QC Manual clear and consistent? Does the quality message filter down to the production floor where it is so critical? Or does it get lost somewhere in between the front office and the front lines?
Discussion turned to other topics. Eventually we were presented with the bill and two fortune cookies. And there it was: a metaphor for our quality discussion was staring us right in the face. We looked at the two fortune cookies, individually wrapped in the traditional cellophane packaging. One cookie was perfect. Just what you’d expect. The other was only half of a cookie. The other half was simply gone, but the cracked cookie had somehow made it through the factory unnoticed and was packaged and sent on its way.
The irony of this QC failure was too much to ignore. Normally I’d be wondering about the little strip of paper with my fortune. But now, with failure staring me in the face, my first thoughts were these: was somebody at the fortune cookie factory asleep at the switch? Looking the other way? Stepped out for a break while the line was running? Is that lack of attention to the packaging of a partial cookie a sign that there may be other problems baked into the design of the offending cookie? Is it safe to eat? I don’t know. But what I do know is that somebody at the cookie factory failed the QC minimum standard and the result was a seriously sub-par product.
Which fortune cookie is more like your company? Do you deliver the perfectly packaged cookie that meets expectations and may even come with an inspiring message? Or do you deliver the less-than-perfect cookie that triggers a frown and a host of QC questions when it arrives at its destination. Expectations are higher than ever among our customers, who believe that high quality and good looking product is not just a “nice to have” It is required. The phrase used to be: “Low price, high quality, great service…pick any two.” Those days are long gone. Now you have to deliver all three, and exceed expectations along the way. For companies that do, good fortune lies ahead. For companies that don’t, the fortune inside the cookie may be less than optimistic.
Sam Lines says
Thank you for this metaphor on quality. I see similar events almost on a daily basis. Sometimes its a quality issue, sometimes it is poor customer experience. In the case of your example, there are two forces at play: what I call passive quality and active quality. Passive quality is the manual, the written instruction, and all of the documents that get filled out documenting the activities. These forms of documentation and record keeping are very necessary, but they don’t do a darn thing to change the quality of the product.
The second force is active quality. Active quality goes beyond the documentation and records to make quality part of the culture. In an active quality system, documents and records are the fruit of the work, not the work itself. Companies with an active quality system will do much more than the minimum “check the box” requirements. They implement systems that improve quality, efficiency, and the customer experience.
The irony is that with option one, the passive quality system, the cost of the program is likely less than with an active quality system. There is more direct cost, at least initially, in making quality part of the work culture. But, in the long run, the active quality system will produce a substantial return on investment. A passive system will always remain a cost, and it will seldom produce a ROI. An active quality system can produce a return five to ten times the investment.
If I have heard it once, I have heard it hundreds of times, “I can’t afford to have a quality system.” This is a lost argument with me. I don’t believe you can afford not to have a quality system, but it must be an active part of the culture. The cost of poor quality (COPQ) can be significant. In some cases, COPQ is 20% of sales. An active quality system that can reduce the COPQ by 75% or more is an effective way to provide low price, high quality, and great service. In reality, can the precaster afford not to have a quality system? I say no, but it must be active.