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Quality: Doing it right when no-one is looking

Quality: getting it right when no-one is looking.

What is ‘quality’?

It’s a word that means so many different things to different people. To most, the Oxford dictionary definition will suffice – it’s a “general excellence of standard or level”, and it can be applied to everything from groceries to goal shots.

But when the term ‘quality’ is used on site, the meaning is entirely different. In this context, only Henry Ford’s explanation will do:

“Quality means doing it right when no-one one is looking.”

With those words, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and the man behind the Model T, pretty much nailed on-site ‘quality’ and ISO 9001:2015, more than 100 years before the standard was even created. Onsite quality isn’t just perceived excellence, nor is quality the responsibility of the Quality Manager.

Simply put, ‘quality’ means having standards. And these are personal standards, right from the shift worker checking basic tools, to the man at the top with the clean collar and the Apple watch. Cumulatively, if everyone does their job right while no-one is looking, a project will manifest ‘quality’ throughout its processes. In turn, these can be systematically audited and verified, probably by the Quality Manager. When someone does want to look, the Quality Manager will have both written and tangible proof that the job has been done right, and to the right standards, too.

Previously the Quality Manager’s role would typically involve writing the plans, procedures and manual for each project in an attempt to ensure that procedures are followed – from Health & Safety, through to LOLER, and the rest. Now best practice has moved with the times, and we’ve realised that we have to manage certain activities in different ways. The challenge, then, is ensuring that all these different processes are managed together, and this is where the Quality Manager comes in: they’re the guys who manage the spaces in between the different processes. So, their Quality Plan, instead of prescribing what should be done, becomes the key that reveals how each step is controlled and measured. That is, how each correct output is proven, how it is validated, and what records have been kept to verify at a later date.

In the end, we all have to accept that we have the ability to change the processes around us to make them better.  The principal behind Quality Management or – in reality – good business or project management, is that, however minor our role, we cannot walk past something that is not right. Because the level of performance you walk past is the level you accept.

We need to do it right, even when no-one is looking. It’s how Henry Ford rolled.

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