Should quality professionals be seen only as the enforcers of quality? Paul Vaughan CQP FCQI outlines the key role of open communication to avoid problems before they occur.
An office in a company somewhere in a business heartland…
Manager 1: "Thank you for popping in. I need to talk to you about your logistics process."
Manager 2: "Really? Go on then."
Manager 1: "Well, for a start, my supervisor tells me that your people are refusing to ship out our finished product."
Manager 2: "Look, my people will collect and ship out your product, but only if it has the correct and completed paperwork."
Manager 1: "Oh, hark at you, being all holier than thou on process. And oh, the irony when you’ve used unapproved transport companies when the chips are down."
Manager 2: "You know that that was a one-off because of a supply-chain haulage shortfall!"
Manager 1: "Possibly. But who knows whether that was just the tip of the iceberg? So, are you going to ship my product? Or do I have to make a phone call?"
Manager 2: "That’s blackmail! And you are hardly going to come off scot-free!"
Manager 1: "This is your last chance [long period of brinkmanship silence] … Right! [numbers dialled] Hello, is that the quality audit department? I‘d like you to carry out an audit for me…"
So, how many of you thought Manager 1 was calling the managing director? How many of you have had that call or request from a manager to audit another department, with a specific event on which that manager would like you to ‘focus’?
Or, how about when another frustrated manager contacts the quality professional and rhetorically asks whether a nonconformity report (NCR) should be raised (by the quality professional). You never know, maybe this is the one time out of a hundred where the manager is truly concerned about process and passionately feels a corrective action is needed that can prevent the recurrence of the problem and improve the process.
"Mindful of a potentially career-limiting scenario, how can the quality professional dodge this enforcement role?"
Mind you, if the manager was that passionate, wouldn’t he or she be raising the NCR themself? So, I tend to be cynical and attribute the request as being from someone who has been messed around and thinks “this will teach them a lesson”.
Facing a dilemma
So, we have a dilemma. After all the good work of promoting that there is no such thing as a bad nonconformity, providing that we learn from it, and that, as internal auditors, we are here to ‘catch’ you doing the right things, we now find ourselves analogous to a loaded gun pointed at the transgressor(s). Surely, this isn’t the acme of where a quality professional aspires to be – the penal enforcer of quality.
Mindful of a potentially career-limiting scenario, how can the quality professional dodge this enforcement role? The reality is that if a nonfulfillment of a requirement has been brought to our attention, we are duty-bound to ensure that the problem is captured, remedial action is implemented, the cause is determined and corrective action is put in place to prevent it happening again.
The ‘dodge’ here is that unless we are legitimate action owners, we, as quality professionals, should not be the ones responsible for carrying out the actions. Arguably, through effective awareness communication, we should never get to the situation where nonconformance is tolerated up to a point. Instead, it is nipped in the bud before a nonconformance report (NCR) or ‘special’ audit is required.
In the encounters that I have had, I revert to reminding my ‘bullet loaders’ of the following points.
- For there to be a nonconformance, there needs to be a requirement that has not been fulfilled – becoming frustrated by another department or supplier is not directly a nonfulfillment of a requirement.
- As the audit lead, I will not just look at a one-off event. I will base my audit on representative sampling to determine whether a problem is widespread or a one-off.
- In evaluating the activity as part of a process, I will need to determine the quality and effectiveness of the supplier’s inputs. Equally, the quality and effectiveness of how the outputs are handed over and received, should be evaluated, and either of these is likely to involve the ‘bullet loader’s function.
- If there are any nonconformances raised, the corrective actions will require owners, who often will not be the transgressors. The last time this happened to me, it was the bullet loader who ended up owning the action which, in the particular circumstances, was quite poetic.
Creating an awareness
Please do not in any way see the above bullet points as a means to dodge raising an NCR or carrying out an audit. It is purely about creating an awareness. Hopefully, this will get people to engage the next time and head off a nonfulfillment requiring the quality professional to carry out a hit, before it happens.
Read more from Paul Vaughan
Paul Vaughan CQP FCQI, Head of Quality at Emico, has developed a Quality Tool Selector, with input from the CQI’s Content Advisory Panel. Read more about its development and learn how the compendium, which demonstrates what tool to apply to which scenario, benefits all quality professionals.
Get the latest news, interviews and features on quality in our industry leading magazine.
Join the conversation
Become a member and you too could input into future revisions of standards such as ISO 9001.
Find a quality course
Search our database of global training partners for a certified quality training course in a location near you.