In the early days of my career I was allocated to the Inspection Department of my employer, a major aircraft manufacturer in Manchester. My tasks consisted of checking random components against the appropriate specification and either passing or failing them.
Depending on the failure rate we could then either pass or reject a whole batch of items.
It was very simple but it did give me an insight into the need for quality across the board. Obviously if a component on an aircraft failed the results could be catastrophic.
We used all the old type equipment, surface tables in cast iron or granite and a wide range of physical measuring equipment like height gauges and callipers that had to be calibrated against a regular schedule to ensure consistency.
Everything was laboriously recorded to set up a paper trail so that we would have a record if anything went amiss. How things have changed.
My early experience was in inspection leading to quality control and the responsibility for compliance rested with the inspectors whose word was law.
The system was reasonably effective albeit cumbersome and inefficient and as time passed there was a realisation that random batch inspection was not an acceptable method.
Both manufacturing methods and measuring equipment improved enormously and it became feasible with advanced technology to ensure that as components were manufactured, they were automatically inspected and the machine adjusted itself if necessary.
This was a new departure called quality assurance in that batch checking was no longer necessary as every component would be compliant.
In the early days of QA I heard a story of a UK company that ordered number of components from a Japanese supplier and stipulated that the failure rate must not exceed 1%.
When the shipment arrived there was a separate bag included carrying a number of components and when this was queried the buyer was told that they were the 1% rejected items that had been specified. We only supply correct items that are cleared to 100% of specification, they were told, so we had to make the incorrect ones separately.
Perhaps this story is apocryphal but it does emphasise the changes in attitude that spread throughout manufacturing.
Attitudes can be catching be they negative or positive and it is no longer sensible or even feasible for a manufacturing section to operate in an ineffective and inefficient organisation.
The consequence is therefore is that quality, per se, or preferably excellence becomes one of the most significant values espoused by a business and needs to be at the centre of everything that the business projects to its stakeholders.
We must dedicate everything that we do to the constant drive to achieve excellence in all aspects of the business, small and large.
Renowned US consultant and spacer Tom Peters, says:
Excellent businesses don't believe in excellence, only in constant improvement and constant change.
The point is that excellence, like perfection, is unattainable so we should embrace the need for constant improvement brought about by change.
The pursuit of excellence is a journey not an objective.
We live and work in a competitive environment and this must never be equated to price. There are many other criteria that persuade people to deal with us and price is only one of those reasons.
Check how excellent are you in terms of customer service for example, how quickly is the telephone answered (no more than three rings) , do your people tell the truth (I’ll call you back in an hour and then don’t).
The best people to ask about our service are our customers. Check on how your people relate to them, what changes do they (the customers) want from us, how satisfied are they with us.
Send them a regular three-question survey (like Amazon) and then send them the results and any action you propose to take.
Remember, we don't have to be sick to be better so we must constantly embrace constant change to achieve an ever higher level of excellence in everything we do.
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