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A famous sage once said; “it’s good to look at the forest before staring at the bark of a tree”. A company’s culture is often an overlooked, important, aspect of improving product quality. So, before you dive into a specific quality problem, look at the “forest” – the Company Culture. In addition to Pareto charts and root cause analysis, improvements in behavior can have a tremendous impact on resultant quality. The recommended behaviors highlighted below should help you and your team on the path to building a Quality-driven company culture.

1. Strive to Cultivate a Process-Driven Environment.

Promote development and implementation of processes through all departments thereby minimizing reliance on tribal knowledge and unwritten interpretations. Companies who live by their processes typically have better control over effective corrective actions by tracing the flow to the area where there was a process break-down. Training plans can be established by simply following the documented procedures. A process-driven culture is key to producing consistent, efficient, and high-quality products.

2. Always Good to Know the Difference Between Facts and Assumptions.

A recommended good practice prior to making technical and business decisions is to research and gather data from reliable sources. This is particularly important when putting together a proposal, designing a process, or performing root cause failure analysis for a customer.

Avoiding assumptions and developing a focus on the facts will typically minimize “opinion-based” control decisions. Once the team appreciates a “fact-based” decision-making methodology, “opinion-based” frustrations and apathy in the workspace will be eased. Data-driven organizations enable teams to efficiently identify and solve the correct problems, naturally promoting quality.

3. Please Practice Blameless Troubleshooting.

We have all seen how blaming each other can tear an organization’s culture apart. When staff has the habit of fixing processes through root cause analysis, there is no fear in saying “my mistake and I’ll fix it”. All the wasted time pointing fingers evaporates and creative solutions come to the forefront. When failure occurs, analyze the alternative solutions, implement the best solution, and track results in the event additional adjustments are needed.

In the manufacturing of complex capital equipment, root cause failure analysis almost always leads to something missing in a process, not someone. Please practice blameless troubleshooting and watch how quickly quality improves!

4. Mistakes Happen, but Not Learning from the Mistake is the Only Mistake.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." How often do we accept the status quo with the belief the issue will go away? Organizations that embrace change and push for continuous improvement find rapid progress. Develop a culture where making the same mistake twice is unacceptable.

5. Think Ahead. Anticipate and Plan for the Unexpected.

We live in a dynamic world with plenty of surprises waiting around the corner. COVID-19’s massive disruption shows this is truer than ever. Gather your team and review potential scenarios for the future. How should your department respond should these events occur? Find experts and gather their input. If you have your rainy-day plan developed, the team will not panic. Energy will go into execution. Customers, Suppliers, and Teammates will see you not as a victim of unforeseen circumstances, but as leaders prepared for change. So, think ahead and develop your plans for what may be. Protect that quality-focused culture you’ve so diligently nurtured.

In conclusion, organic quality improvements can occur when companies adopt the following essential behaviors: Insist on documented processes; follow facts and leave opinions behind; apply blameless troubleshooting; implement corrective actions such that mistakes are not repeated, and develop a plan B for the unexpected. Building Quality from the-inside-out is easier than you think!

Colleen Sweeney