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Gorur N. Sridhar


OCD in the Quality Department

Checking and rechecking isn’t always a bad thing

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2023 - 13:01

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry (collectively termed obsessions), along with repetitive behaviors (or compulsions) aimed at reducing the associated anxiety.

For team members in quality departments, I personally feel that many OCD traits ought to be a unique selling point for recruitment. In fact, the level of attention to detail inherent in many with OCD is the penchant driving quality systems and processes in most organizations. It’s the compulsive checking-rechecking cycle that teaches the importance of verification and validation.

How can you tell if people with OCD work in your quality department? Symptoms of the disorder include: excessive washing or cleaning, repeated checking, hoarding, relationship-related obsessions, aversion to particular numbers, and nervous rituals such as opening and closing a door a certain number of times before entering or leaving a room.

Most people with OCD fall into one of the following categories:
• Washers are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.
• Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked) that they associate with harm or danger.
• Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen or they will be punished.
• Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colors, or arrangements.
• Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.

OCD in the quality department

Now let’s discuss one of these categories—checkers—with respect to the quality department. Is this OCD symptom good or bad for quality?

It’s time-consuming. Yes, very true. Checking and rechecking is both time-consuming and mandatory. But such painstaking effort is necessary to avoid rejections and customer complaints—which would be more time-consuming to solve, and an expensive affair.

Yes, quality OCD can sour working relationships with other departments, but it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. It’s commonly understood that if employees in the quality department are hated, they’re doing their job quite effectively.

Checking and rechecking help to maintain the quality management system (QMS) and prompt employees to follow it. For an analogy, consider the blacksmith who beats red-hot iron into shape by repeated hammering. The object doesn’t shape up in one blow.

If the organization must stabilize, then process variation needs to reduce. In such cases, OCD is not only useful but should also be contagious.

When is quality OCD considered excessive?

• When a QC engineer checks and rechecks parts and documents to ascertain for himself that all is well; the systems, processes, and methodology should be reliable enough to make that unnecessary.
• When a part is tested and retested for convergence of results. This, too, should be unnecessary except for the purpose of gauge R&R.
• When the procedures are overkill. Procedures and processes should be simple to use yet effective enough that employees avoid slip-ups.

But OCD has benefits to an organization:

• Conducting repetitive and frequent internal quality audits will ensure that processes are followed.
• Surprise checks and looking out for horizontal deployment of corrective and preventive actions can improve productivity.
• Inspecting incoming raw materials and their associated certificates of conformance prevents costly rejects and delays later on.
• Persistent follow-up to close corrective actions keeps auditors happy.

As indicated in the graph below, OCD subsides the moment a process improves and stabilizes, indicating that confidence has been instilled in personnel.

Sometimes there could also be a temporary lull in OCD as a result of top management’s lack of commitment. But that must be demonstrated soon after and sustained.

There is a place for OCD in quality. Remember that the next time you find yourself sharpening pencils repeatedly. Use that impulse constructively and go check how things are doing on the shop floor.


About The Author

Gorur N. Sridhar’s picture

Gorur N. Sridhar

Gorur N. Sridhar is a mechanical engineer and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has more than 24 years’ experience in manufacturing, quality, and design. His use of value engineering methods, process improvements, and failure analysis has been instrumental in obtaining substantial cost savings. Sridhar is an internal auditor for ISO 9001 and AS9100 quality systems, and has mentored more than 100 Six Sigma and kaizen projects. He has worked on implementing and sustaining level-five Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) activities. Sridhar has contributed to environmental, health, safety systems, and community development programs where he resides in Bangalore, India.



" It’s commonly understood that if employees in the quality department are hated, they’re doing their job quite effectively." << seriously ?? You must work in a completely different environment like we had in the 70s & 80s. If we used that mentality, there would be a line to talk to the HR dept.

The problem is OCD checking & re0-checking won't be satisfied. Whether something checks good or bad they will continually re-check in case their initial 20 checks were made incorrectly.