Let's Shut Down Variation Acceptance
In the early 1950s, the Department of Defense issued a quality specification titled The Control of Nonconforming Materials MIL-Q-5923. It provided ways of classifying products and services that didn't meet military requirements.
In addition, an official board was set up consisting of customers and representatives from engineering and quality. The board would meet in a wire cage, complete with key lock, and examine a nonconforming item. They could decide to use it as is, rework it into another format or scrap it. Manufacturing and purchasing representatives crowded outside the cage, lobbying for their items to be tossed back into the process with inspection-proof tags. The MRB crib was always crowded and busy, and it still is.
When I first became a quality manager, I shut down the crib in my area, and the place came to a halt. It couldn't operate without a system to deal with nonconformances. I met more important people during that one afternoon than I had during my entire career. The thought of a workplace free of nonconforming product never occurred to them, the DoD or any of its suppliers. Variations were considered inevitable, and the only sensible way of dealing with them was to arrange an orderly disposition.
This is a really bad idea.
Most quality practices began in manufacturing. When software became a product, similar practices immediately took root. Standards of defect per thousand lines were set up, and debugging replaced the MRB crib. Over the years, I've seen very little effort on software companies' parts to write clear specifications that would eliminate this extra work.
Their attitude resembles manufacturing companies' worries about warranty expenses. Automotive organizations, for instance, have learned to produce cars with few defects. Yet, these organizations still plan on large warranty expenses because of hidden nonconformances buried deeply in components. Voiding the reject tag doesn't cure the defect.
People constantly ask me about the quality profession's future. I tell them that companies can make nonconforming products and services without having quality professionals around. If their roles are merely to find ways to use products that aren't right, rather than working to make them defect-free, who needs quality professionals? Most companies deliver 75 percent of their output during the last week of the month. This delivery pressure ensures that the nonconforming stuff goes out.
We need to grow reliable organizations, not places where everything is adjusted to meet daily conditions. Shut down your variation-approval cycle and insist that everyone learn to do things right the first time.
Professional golfers must live with the results of their shots. They don't have the privilege of gathering a group together in order to retrieve a ball from the water and put it back on the fairway without penalty. They don't get paid if their output is poor. Finding a doctor who will change a negative test report into a positive one, or perhaps clear up the X-rays, is not the way to good health. Accountants who juggle the books wind up in jail.
Quality professionals need to grow up in this regard.
About the author
Philip B. Crosby, a popular speaker and founder of Philip Crosby Associates--now PCA II--is also the author of several books, including Quality Is Still Free (McGraw-Hill, 1995) and The Absolutes of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 1996). Visit his Web site at www.philipcrosby.com.