People, the key to quality

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Investment in quality assurance and human resource insures high business standards

Recently our doctor referred my wife to a leading lab at Bangalore for a blood check. After the test, the lab report indicated that she would have to be on medication for life. In order to confirm the diagnosis the doctor suggested that we get a check at another hospital. We got the test done again and to our surprise found the report contradicting the first test.

 

This doctor felt that such mistakes are possible and are usually due to human error. He said that he had also noticed errors in lab reports from the US where the tests are automated. He further added that this could be due to wrong loading of the test tube or perhaps a spill over of a blood sample into another sample in an automated test line. This spill over may go unnoticed leading to erroneous reports.

 

Given the above situation, you’ll have noticed how vital a role human monitoring plays in any process. This applies to Quality in a business organization as well. Systems and automation do help, but maintaining and following them lies with the people. Many organizations invest heavily on equipments and have excellently documented quality systems, but they overlook the investment in people. We must understand that for high quality standards, two departments need to play a vital role - Quality Assurance, which develops systems, and Human Resource, which develops people. These two departments need to work in collaboration. Despite the best of systems and sophisticated equipment, high quality standards cannot be achieved by a set of de-motivated and untrained people.

 

For Quality, the right person for the job is the first criteria. The next step is orienting the people to the vision, goals and the culture of the organization. For this we need a holistic development of people, and this would include skill, knowledge, health, motivation and enthusiasm. Let’s look at them a little more closely.

 

Skill enhancement is possible by providing training, both on the job and off. To qualify skill sets, a certification programme needs to be conducted and an employee-wise database should be maintained to track the qualification records. This record becomes helpful where multi-skills are required, especially in industries wherein product life cycles are short and there is a customer demand fluctuation. In such a scenario assigning a person without the adequate skills can lead to huge rejections.

 

The company must impart training to employees on product knowledge, product application, product safety and quality systems. The organization can check the effectiveness of the training by having a written test. Knowledge of product use and safety requirements builds confidence in employees and also increases their decision-making capabilities.

 

Regular Health check-up is a must for a healthy workforce. This could include eye check for persons carrying out visual inspection, and even color blindness check. For the younger people emphasis should be laid on fitness and hygiene, which will prevent illness and improve alertness and efficiency. Health, I would say is more important in manual operations than in handling machines. Swift and steady movements of the hands or fingers, a sharp eyesight and total concentration are important. I would put it as, a fit body ensures ‘fitness for use’ of the product manufactured.

 

Motivation is crucial to get the best out of a person, both in terms of quantity and quality. To motivate people the company must recognize and reward achievements. To get people involved the organization can have an Employee Suggestion Scheme and small group activities like, Quality Circles, Task Forces, Continuous Improvement Projects, Safety Committee and Cross Functional Teams. These also improve communication skills, analytical skills and problem solving skills. Success in any of these activities increases the employee’s confidence and the recognition really motivates the people.

 

Enthusiastic people contribute more and these are the people who achieve a good balance between work and play. They use both sides of the brain, the left and the right. Arts and games are the activities that help develop the right side, whereas the left does the logical thinking. The company needs to give opportunities to employees to display their hidden talents and indulge in their passions.

 

A person with a high level of enthusiasm will enjoy his work.

 

A study conducted in our company indicates an indirect correlation between customer complaints / in-process rejection levels and the quality of the personnel. An analysis of the process audit reports (see table and graph) of various product lines revealed that the overall scores were poor in areas where the scores for the “Personnel” were less. These products also had some repetitive, though minor, customer complaints. In fact the product line, “A” Assembly, that has the most sophisticated machine and the best of the inspection and monitoring equipment, has higher in-process rejection and customer complaint levels. It is to be noted that this line scores the least on “personnel”. This goes to show that with the same systems in place what matters is the skill and competency of the people at the shop floor, who handle the job.

 

We have also seen in another section- process “X”, the shop floor supervisor, and the tool maintenance technician, both quality circle team leaders, along with the support of other colleagues could bring down the in-process rejection to very low levels and maintain these consistently. In process”X” we achieved record PPM (rejections in parts per million) levels, and interestingly this section scored high in the area of “personnel” in the process audit (see table and graph).

 

It is also to be noted that the product variants and the production quantities are the highest in process “X’. The other product which has done well is ”B” assembly”, and in this case too the “Personnel” scores are very high and this product has the advantage of not having variants and having low production quantities. The details are tabulated below:

 
 

Product

Types

Monthly Production Quantities

“A’ Assembly

5

1,500,000

“B” Assembly

1

30,000

Process “X”

500

8,500,000

“C” Assembly

1

15,000

 
 

 

When the process “X” supervisor was asked what actions were initiated to bring down PPM levels, he said with most of the improvements having being done on the machines, now it was all to do with people. Some of the actions he spelt out :

 

1. Speak- all the machine operators are continuously spoken to, about the rejection target levels. They have been asked to inform the concerned authorities in case of even minor doubts or hitches in production. The criterion is to be cautious and not to err on the wrong side.

 

2. Analyze- with the training and exposure obtained in participating in quality circles, they are well-versed in using problem solving tools and the tools are used extensively for analyzing and solving any quality issues. They can analyze most problems without the support of a quality engineer or other specialists.

 

3. Build Rapport- the support obtained by the tool maintenance team has been very good and this again is by the excellent rapport built with them.

 

4. Take Responsibility-The rejection rate in PPM levels, caused by each operator is assigned to him and this is discussed during the annual appraisal period. This would have an impact in the revisions and increase in pay. One can thus conclude that for quality, all the three are a must, Good Systems, Good Equipment and most important Good People.

 

The author is quality manager at Tyco Electronics

 

 

 

Issue BG27 June03