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Sunday, 22 March 2015

Quality Control or Quality Assurance? Better to Call it The Pursuit of Excellence!

In the days when I used to carry out major multi-client European market research studies, we would usually try to uncover the most important factors in making a purchasing decision.

In the straitened times that we have experienced over the past five years one would imagine that price would be far and away the most significant.

Certainly where companies normally gain their business through a tendering process it is difficult to get away from pricing even though many tenders will include a clause saying that they do not automatically accept the lowest or any price quoted.

The framework system has made it slightly less onerous to obtain business but tenders looking for the lowest price certainly aren't going away.

However there is still a vast amount if business being done without going through tendering process and in these cases the important buying considerations become relevant.

It may sound obvious but the first and most important consideration is that you can supply the product or service required.

Next can you supply to the specification required, then to their time scale, then to their quality standard and eventually at what price.

It is the "quality" standard which can cause the major problems especially where desired specifications are too loosely defined.

In the end it should be mandatory in any supplying business that quality level of the product and of the service surrounding it should be rated 100%.

I heard a great story of a UK company that purchased some highly technical components from a supplier in Japan. They specified that there should be no more than 1% outside the required specification.

When the first shipment arrived the buyer was mystified by a small bag of components that were included in the batch.

When they enquired from the supplier what they were they were told that these were the1% faulty components they had asked for and which had been made specially as normally they only made and supplied products to 100% quality standard.

Please note: it is not only the quality of the product or service that we are talking about.

It is also the quality of the service surrounding the whole deal, the way in which customers are dealt, the level of communication of both good a less good news, the standard of paperwork and so on.

I heard of a project only yesterday that had gone extremely successfully to the entire satisfaction of the client with one exception. The closing paperwork was late and not to the client's requirements.

The result was that in the future this became the criterion by which the supplier was measured and was a constant source of irritation.

Logical? Sensible?  No, of course not but sadly human beings are involved which can send common sense or logic out if the window.

In my early days as an aeronautical engineering apprentice I was sent for experience into most departments in the factory one of which was Final Inspection.

This was the old way of doing things. Components came out of the machine shop or from the fitters and were rigorously inspected against a drawing and either passed or rejected.

For large quantities there was batch inspection based on statistical probabilities and which, by definition, could (and often did) allow sub-standard components through.

That was quality control. The world has changed for the better and now we have quality assurance, which implies that the product has been checked at all stages of manufacture to ensure that it complies with specification.

Whatever we purchase we have a right to expect that it be fit for purpose and without flaws.  We are paying good money for it and it should be exactly what we want and expect.

Quality of product and service is not just a measurable mathematical function; quality is an attitude of mind that should be the most important feature of the company culture.

In fact, it is better defined as the Pursuit of Excellence in every phase of the company’s operations giving the assurance that the customer will be supplied to specification every time and in every way.

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