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David C. Crosby

Quality Insider

Who Is Responsible for Quality?

You and no one else

Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 08:30

I recently wrote an article for Quality Digest Daily titled, “Quality Crisis in America.” It produced quite a response. Most readers agreed that quality needed to improve, maybe even that there is a crisis, but it was a mixed bag about The Boss’ role and responsibility. Some thought I was bashing the boss a little more than he or she deserves. So, if not The Big Boss, who is responsible for quality? I offer the following thoughts based on my book The Zero Defects Option (The Crosby Co., 2008) and the thinking of U.S. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.

To start with, all action and processes flow from the top—money, direction, quality standards, performance standards, everything. Nothing flows until the boss turns the handle on the faucet. Of course this also means that when the handle is turned the other way, things stop flowing. Quality is not a grass roots methodology; it comes from the top down, right out of that faucet. Understand that when I say quality, I’m not talking about goodness; that’s another subject. While the goodness standard also flows from the boss, it’s not going to be discussed here. I’m talking about a product or service that meets one of the definitions for quality as put forth by the American Society for Quality (ASQ)—free of defects, or zero defects, or a product or service free of deficiencies.

A favorite quality slogan is, “Everybody’s responsible for quality.” It has a zillion variations, but the message is the same. I hate to tell you, but the message is wrong.

A photograph in Life magazine many years ago—maybe when I was a kid—got stuck in my brain. In the photo, three professional baseball players stand looking down at a baseball, between them—on the ground. It was somebody’s responsibility to catch that ball. They all went after the ball and nobody caught it. The slogan, “Quality is everybody’s job” means that quality is nobody’s job. Remember Freddie Prince? He made a good living with the line, “It’s not my job.” The boss can’t say that.

A big part of the Zero Defects concept is that people perform to the standard that is set or accepted by their leader. People spend a lot of time, thought, and energy trying to figure out what will please (or displease) their leader. Those of you who have a boss know exactly what he or she will put up with. As I stated the quality crisis article, “The product looks like the management.” If you’re the leader—the boss—and the product have problems, it’s your fault.

There are bosses, under-bosses, and under-under-bosses in the food chain. Everybody has a boss, even me—you’re my boss since I report to my customers. The CEO reports to the board of directors, which reports to the stockholders. The CEO probably has 10 to 15 direct subordinates who march to his or her beat. Meanwhile, Joe, down in the machine shop, probably knows that there is a CEO and may even know his or her name. However, Joe’s salary, working hours, and other benefits come from Tom—Joe’s supervisor. Joe doesn’t see the CEO as his leader. Tom is the only leader that Joe thinks about and tries to please. Although the CEO shares the responsibility for quality with Tom and Joe, the CEO’s portion doesn’t get any smaller. And even though Tom shares the responsibility with Joe, Tom’s portion doesn’t get smaller either.

According to Admiral Rickover, “Responsibility is a unique concept; it can only reside and inhere within a single individual. You may delegate it but it is still with you. You may share it with others but your portion is not diminished. You many disclaim it but you cannot divest yourself of it. Even if you do not recognize it or admit its presence, you cannot escape it. If the responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else.”

That’s a powerful thought. All leaders should have that message carved into their desktop. The CEO shares the responsibility for quality with the rest of the leaders in the organization, right on down to Joe’s boss. Joe, of course, is responsible for doing his job right using the process that was handed to him. If the process—or Joe—is incapable of meeting the requirement, Tom is responsible for correcting the situation. If Tom doesn’t do his job right, and a defective product gets out, he and the CEO must share the responsibility.

Unfortunately, many members of management (at all levels) don’t seem to understand their responsibly for quality. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a plant manager blame “those people,” meaning the workers, for rotten quality. That type of manager doesn’t understand how quality happens, doesn’t understand that he or she is responsible for quality. That type of manager screams, “How the hell did that get out?” when the customer complains.

Every time the “responsibility” issue comes up, I think about that baseball. Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.


About The Author

David C. Crosby’s picture

David C. Crosby

Dave Crosby is president of The Crosby Company, a firm he created to develop and deliver software and training in the field of quality management. His SPC software was the first on the market for the personal computer. His books include, How To Get Your People to Do Things Right, Quality is Easy, How To Run a Zero Defects Program, and The Zero Defects Option.

Crosby served as corporate director of quality for RCA Corp., General Instruments Corp., and Portec Inc. He was awarded the “Outstanding Civilian Service Medal” by the U.S. Army for his work with the Army Zero Defects Program. His web site is www.zdoption.com.


I think you are way off base.

I think you are way off base. Your methodologies define a scapegoat not quality.

Who is responsible for Quality?

I looked forward to my next addition of Quality Digest mainly to read your follow-up. I agree wholeheartedly with your article. I have had the opportunity to see the results of a poor management that did not take responsibility for quality and the privilege to see the results of management that placed quality as a top priority. I have seen first hand what happens in the factory when the Plant Manager or President place a high regard on quality. The commitment absolutely flows downhill and people will rise to meet the expectations. When employee's sense the management commitment and feel what they do is important everything in the production process improves. Earlier in my career I had a Boss who played an active role in the commitment to quality, nonconformances and scrap dropped dramatically, all employee's were involved in the corrective and preventive action process, and customer complaints were nonexistent. Since then I have had several bosses with varying management styles but the worst bosses were complacent and believed scrap, nonconformances & customer complaints were just part of doing business. Unfortunately that philosophy also flows down hill, normally at a much faster speed.

Responsibility for Quality

Some time during my active career in QA I came across this discussion. There are four factors, called The Four Ms, that enter into the quality of the final product; Machine, Material, Method, Man. Who's responsible for each of them? Machine - it's management who decides what kind of machines will be purchased and utilized to produce a product or service, not the worker. Material - again, it's management who decides what kind of material will be used for a product, or who studies the product specs and orders the appropriate material. Method - here again, management is the organizational unit that controls the review, approvals, and documentation of the methods that will be used, and who encourages or discourages suggestions to refine those methods. This leaves us with Man. I like to think of Man in two aspects, Training and Motivation. Once again, its management who has the say over the training program of the company and who encourages and supports independent learning efforts. So now we're down to Motivation. Here is the one component that rests to a great degree on the workers' shoulders, although Management's attitudes toward workers can impact it significantly. In the end we can see where the person on the front line who is engaged in producing the product or service is only about 10 to 20% responsible for the quality of the final output. Management is responsible for the other 80 to 90%.

Just wondering...

Thinking about your example of the baseball players, I wonder what the manager’s response to the situation was? Was he a stand-up boss enough to admit it was his fault during the post-game press conference? Or did he express frustration by saying he didn’t know how that happened to three professionals (how did that get out?), distancing himself from their error? After all, he had trained them in a system to handle that situation and practiced that play many times. And what will he do next? Bench one or more of the players? Re-train them in how to handle that situation using the same system? Or take a corrective action by changing the system for that play to one he hopes will be more effective? Or is no action warranted? I am somewhat conditioned to accept this case as a lack of execution on the player’s part, even though I have the rational understanding that it is the manager’s responsibility to get them to execute, and the more frequently they make an error like this the more my thinking would shift responsibility to the manager. Pretty similar in business and industry – managers need to get players to execute the system. Players have to execute. There’s a reason they call it a team.

Who is responsible for Quality

Excellent article. I have always suggested any place I've worked or consulted, to eliminate the word "Quality" from all job titles. - Quality Director, Quality Manager, Quality Engineer, etc. Everyone thinks it's their responsibility.

Good point on eliminating

Good point on eliminating the word "Quality" from the job titles. Our department actually uses Performance Improvement. So we have Directors of Performance Improvement and Performance Improvement Analyst. We always tell everyone that Quality is in each department. We review the quality data submitted to us to make recommendations, bring it up with Administration and specific committees for guidance or advice. Each department has their own quality personnel (or in some cases the managers themself) who tracks their performance. There is still a long way to go in educating the staff.

Responsibility for Quality

Many years ago when I first went to work in industry, I was a machine operator. My job was to cut a part to a set diameter on a turret lathe and check every fifth piece with a fixed diameter gauge. I was given a quota of 750 parts/day. The first day, I turned out over 800 parts and could have done many more but for the fact that when I checked every fifth part, they were all wrong and needed to be laboriously hand cut to size.
I thought about this over night and the next morning started checking first every fourth part, then every third and so on until after about fifty parts, I realized the depth stops on the cutter-head were shot and I needed to recut a bunch of the pieces I had already made, as well as check the diameter of each piece frequently as I cut.
Of course, this caused my production to plunge to 250 parts/day. My foreman was furious - even after I explained the problem to him. He said, and I'll never forget this, "So, who promoted you to quality control engineer? You know we have a couple of engineers at the foundry up in Bucks [PA] who get paid a hell of a lot more than either one of us to sort through these parts and toss out the bad ones. That's not your job."
I decided that he was a flaming lunatic although looking back all these years, flaming may not have been the first word that came to mind, and went on about my business producing 250 good parts/day. A day later I got demoted to chip puller by the Vice-President of Production. You see to them the production quota was far more important than the quality and in any case there was no allowance for quality control in their unit budget. Moreover since materials were not included in their budget, they never counted the cost of waste.
In order to make middle management responsible for quality, you have got to also make them responsible for all budgetary items that affect production. Only then can they fully see how their decisions impact quality and productivity.

Quality Crisis in America

Over the past 30 years I have been around, in, and under just about every industry type, company size, and ownership model out there. In every one, the problems stayed the same, just the names and faces changed. And in every one, the number one problem and the number one solution was always the the same... the Boss.

Like the rest of us, Bosses don't like to to be wrong, and they really hate it when others find out that they were wrong. The good ones, and I have known a couple over the years, use this as an opportunity to walk the talk and do what they expect others to do...admit to their error, accept the responsibility for it, use it as a learning opportunity, and move on. The problems occur when they try to hide the truth, dodge the bullet, dance a little sidestep, or otherwise spin the issue to avoid the consequences of their decisions. The unfortunate fact, however, is that they are all too often able to do just that. Unlike the unBosses, society (and their money) give Bosses a lot more dancing room.

Keep telling them the truth, David. They need to hear it from a voice they can neither influence, intimidate, nor ignore.

Doug Brister, PE
An aging Engineer who was sucked into Quality
when too young to know any better and has
stuck with the Tar Baby ever since...

Right on target

Well one thing I can say, i am deling exactly what you put in papaer, our CEO, Managers only think how make mony but any Quality is way down in the list.


Quality Managers

Well you hit this one on the head. Although everyone contributes to quality, someone has to be the leader and have the responsibility on his neck........

Hi Can you imagine the


Can you imagine the disservice of google by publishing:-

Quality assurance managers play a crucial role in business by ensuring that products meet certain thresholds of acceptability. They plan, direct or coordinatequality assurance programs and formulate qualitycontrol policies. They also work to improve an organization's efficiency and profitability by reducing waste.Mar 16, 2018

What a burden and its only the job advert? How can ONE person/department shoulder these desired outcomes? So, it truly vindicates ISO for taking away the "management representative" requirement and puts the emphasis squarely where it belongs, on Top Management!