Content By Craig Cochran

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

ISO 9001 might be the most confusing document in business history. I first became aware of the standard in the late 1980s when my manager handed it to me and said, “See if you can figure this thing out. Our plant has to get certified.”

I took the document back to my desk and attempted to read it. The first attempt was a failure. On the second attempt, I got a little further. On the third attempt, I think I read the whole thing, but I still wasn’t sure what it said. All I could remember was “blah, blah, blah… quality system.” And we were supposed to get certified to this? Impossible.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

ISO 9001:2015 does a lot of things right, but using clear language isn’t one of them.

One of the most glaring examples is the transformation of the word “records” into “retained documented information.” That's right, the standard’s updaters took one word and turned it into three. And the three words aren’t nearly as intuitive as the one word they replaced.

Regardless of what you call them, records are the proof of something happening. They are historical, referring to past events. As such, they aren’t revised. Records might be “corrected” in some cases, but they are never revised. Only documents are revised. (We’ll address documents and their status in ISO 9001:2015 in a future article.) The primary control method for records is one of housekeeping: knowing where they’re stored, who’s responsible for retaining them, and how long they’re kept.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

President Obama was recently quoted in a CBS news article as saying that if he could change anything about his presidency, it would be to tell more stories. That got me thinking. Could “storyteller” really be a legitimate role for a leader?

ADVERTISEMENT

Obama spoke of storytelling almost like it was the central responsibility of a leader. That is a gross overstatement, but storytelling certainly can be a tool of a leader. Armed with strong character and an effective vision, storytelling can be one of the most effective vehicles for sharing the vision.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

Product certifications have exploded in recent years. Products ranging from pine lumber to children’s toys carry some sort of certification, and the organizations issuing certifications are as diverse as the products themselves. What are the practical values of these certifications? What are the pitfalls and limitations? In this article I will explore these issues and propose some recommendations for a product certification program that is meaningful and helpful to consumers and producers alike.

The changing marketplace

The variety and sophistication of products that are available to the general public has exploded in the last half century. Products that would have been considered extravagant or even unimaginable are now commonplace, available day or night at the local big-box retailer, or delivered by a brown UPS truck. Automation of manufacturing methods and the reduction of variability have driven down product costs, and improvements in logistics have moved products to consumers in every corner of the world. The range of manufactured goods has never been broader or more impressive.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

When I first got into quality, I really hated verifying the effectiveness of actions taken to correct a problem. After all, I was young and inexperienced. All of the people whose actions I was verifying were older, wiser, and more experienced than I was. Who was I to say that their actions were effective or ineffective? My assumptions were as follows:

  • If they said they did something, then they certainly did it.
  • Whatever they did was directly related to the problem causes, or they wouldn’t have done it.
  • The action must have been effective; they would have told me otherwise.

 

All of these assumptions had to be correct, because I was working with seasoned professionals, right? Ha! Boy, did I learn a lesson.

People just want to get paperwork off their desks or out of their in-boxes as quickly as possible. Taking actions on problems is one of many responsibilities that people have and, unfortunately, it's not always top priority. That’s why it’s crucial that action be carefully verified. Verification is not an act of suspicion or disrespect; it’s simply a necessary part of problem solving.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By Craig Cochran

So you have a customer complaint. It’s not just any complaint, but a huge one from your biggest customer. The problem affects millions of dollars in business and threatens the survival of your company. Are you going to take action? Of course! You put together a team of top players and attack it head-on.

Team members investigate the problem and perform a detailed 5-Why analysis. They start with the problem statement and ask, “Why did that happen?” repeatedly, drilling down deeper with each iteration:

Problem: There were seven data errors in reports issued to our largest customer in the last month

Why? Because lab reports are getting in the wrong project folders.

Why? Because the project numbers are written illegibly on the folders.

Why? Because the customer service representatives are rushed when preparing folders.

Why? Because there are only two representatives taking calls for all divisions.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

War heroes are a special category of leaders. They embody bravery, resoluteness, and strength—quintessential attributes of good leaders. This is exactly the sort of leader Shakespeare gives us at the beginning of Macbeth.

At the start of Act 1, Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman and field general, has just defeated a rebellion, with Macbeth himself slaying one of the rebels and putting his head on a pike. Nobody can say enough about Macbeth and his virtues. The King of Scotland, Duncan, gushes like a schoolgirl:

            “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!” (Act 1, Scene 2, line 24)

Macbeth is awarded a promotion from the King before even returning from the battlefield, receiving the title of Thane of Cawdor. We learn about all of this through dialogue before the character Macbeth makes an appearance. It’s an auspicious beginning that seems to lead to leadership immortality. But wait, this is a tragedy, remember? Events are bound to turn dark. In Macbeth, events turn very dark.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By Craig Cochran

A few years ago, we had a mysterious scratching sound in our attic. My 5-year-old daughter was terrified, and everybody’s sleep was being interrupted on a nightly basis.

“We need to do something about the noise in our attic,” I told my daughter.

“No!” she cried. “Don’t go into the attic. It’s too scary.”

I talked to my daughter, and it was obvious that the vagueness and seeming enormity of the problem terrified her. She didn’t understand the problem; thus it was overwhelming. In my daughter’s mind, the sound in the attic could be bats, snakes, ghosts, vampires, or big hairy monsters. I took my daughter’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

“I’m a little scared, too,” I told her. “But if we can learn more about the problem, I bet we can solve it.”

My daughter seemed dubious, but she agreed to help me investigate the situation. We went into the attic with a flashlight, stabbing the beam of light into the dark and dusky corners. It didn’t take long for us to figure out the nature of our problem. We saw tiny eyes and furry little faces staring at us.

“They’re just squirrels,” my daughter giggled. “They snuck into the attic.”

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

A few years ago, I had the good fortune of doing some consulting with B&C Specialty Products in Hopeulikit, Georgia. B&C does light manufacturing, primarily plastic molding and assembly, and they also distribute imported products produced by companies in the Far East. They have about 150 employees and are the biggest employer by far in Hopeulikit.

B&C was a perfect place to learn about managing and quality. Every day presented a new lesson. Usually the lessons were hard-learned, and those are the ones that really stick with you. B&C was gracious enough to allow me to interview their personnel about things that came up during my time there. Here is an interesting lesson: Engage top management. It accurately depicts the pitfalls of embarking on a quality journey without the full engagement of top management. The scenario is described by the people who actually lived it.

Craig Cochran’s picture

By: Craig Cochran

Last year, I had the good fortune of doing some consulting with B&C Specialty Products in Hopeulikit, Georgia. B&C does light manufacturing, primarily plastic molding and assembly, and they also distribute imported products produced by companies in the Far East. They have about 150 employees and are the biggest employer by far in Hopeulikit.

B&C was a perfect place to learn about managing and quality. Every day presented a new lesson. Usually the lessons were hard-learned, and those are the ones that really stick with you. B&C was gracious enough to allow me to interview their personnel about things that came up during my time there. Here is an interesting lesson: Don’t fail to strategize. The scenario is described by the people who actually lived it.

—J. T. Ryan, president