Quality is Not Free – We Have to Earn It

By: Alejandro Ponce, Alfra-Opex

After serving 14 years at a company dedicated to saving lives, by building reliable safety systems for automobiles such as seat belts and airbags, it is clear that quality is the top priority when we talk about product performance. There is no room for mistakes. With only one chance for those products to be used, it needs to be flawless, because human lives depend on them.

During my plant manager days I used to tell our associates the best problems to have are those that never happen; in other words, let´s attack quality before problems occur. To achieve this there must be a high dosage of trust at the gemba and to show respect for associates by listening to every single person and supporting them to fix any quality concern.

Any operation or service can achieve great quality levels through inspection, nevertheless valuable time and resources are wasted at all levels of the organization when problems are created and then stopped before they go out the door by an army dedicated to the inspection process. I once visited a supplier to review a critical quality concern, and to my surprise there were more people involved in the “inspection department” prior to shipping than engineers and tech support people helping to prevent problems where the quality was made – at the source. We subsequently helped our supplier convert their quality from an inspection-mode to a proactive-mode, permanently attacking problems at the source.

It is difficult to assure quality at the source if leaders do not respect all associates. I have seen companies with people who do not feel comfortable reporting quality concerns at the gemba, because they are ignored or “punished” if they stop the line to report a problem. This creates an atmosphere of fear, and quality issues slip out the door reaching the customer and creates a snowball of problems for everyone.

On the other hand, I have seen examples of companies that reward associates every time they stop a production line to report a quality concern. Issues are addressed right away, leaders get involved and talk to associates, and everyone in the organization feels important and respected as a result. This certainly builds trust within the walls of the organization and helps assure quality at the source. Remember, quality is not free; we have to earn it through genuine respect to our people.

Alejandro Ponce, Partner, Alfra-Opex


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