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Dirty Secrets of the ‘Q’ Word

THURSDAY, APRIL 25, 2013

By Simon Hope


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Having dispensed with human competence, can we hope for any better from its inanimate, intangible cousin ... quality?

Quality is one of those words, like gay, that stood many years ago for something that it no longer represents—except in the far recesses of happy memories.

Used in its normal context (“builders of quality motor cars”), quality once indicated and implied that the manufacturer built items to the highest possible standards, which were not compromised by the eternal driver of cost.

You paid your money and, as Aldo Gucci (“the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten”) and his ilk understood, you got an item that was worth having.

The ABCs of TQM

Today, however, quality is a whole different ballgame. It seems as if the word is used to conjure up the meanings of the past to hide behind the dubious goings-on of today.

Loopholes
University of Texas

Human nature, greed and unrealistic programs will lead to problems without proper controls.

Companies use “Quality Management” and “Total Quality Management System”—descriptions that, to the untrained eye, give a warm feeling of comfort and reliability, when nothing could be further from the truth.

When we look at the models of many major companies, quality is described as an item meeting with the specification, and Quality Control/Quality Assurance is the system in place to ensure, on paper, such compliance.

Alas, this airy-fairy world is not quite so rosy in reality.

How Low Can You Go?

The first problem is the specification for the goods to be supplied. Unless this is written in a cast-iron way with unambiguous definitions of what is wanted and expected, unscrupulous contractors will be looking for any loopholes and will deliver goods of the lowest possible standard.

The next problem is the poacher/gamekeeper syndrome. With the advent of systems like ISO 9001, where contractors become self-certifying authorities, the guy doing the job is expected to inspect his own work, reject all the defective areas, re-work and then re-inspect until he is convinced that it meets the specified standard, and then fill out the documentation swearing compliance.

Gucci quote Aldo Gucci

What did Aldo Gucci know that so many of us have forgottenor choose to ignore?

I can just see a guy battling for hours to blast off the last scrap of mill scale after three inspections, after which he buries the evidence under a spray coat of primer.

Whom do we think we are kidding?

Paper Tiger

Copy and paste on a computer is the third source of trouble. How easy is it for an inspector or foreman (often the same person) to do QA/QC on a computer with a Word template that can easily be rolled from one day to the next with a quick change to just a few salient details?

These works of fiction are the result of a fatally flawed perspective on human nature, which will generally do the bare minimum it can get away with. So discovered one major company that had been presented with tons of lavishly bound QA/QC packages outlining the work undertaken in minute detail.

As it turned out, absolutely nothing had been done, but the company had paid out on the paper evidence for years until what was supposed to be a cursory audit showed otherwise.

The Big ‘But’

Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of people out there do not fit these stereotypes and do produce consistently excellent work in the face of adversity. But (and there is always a “but”) human nature, greed and unrealistic programs will always lead to problems unless proper controls are put in place.

Low standards Gold seal

Shopping for a company slogan? Make sure you have the meaures in place to stand behind it.

Until overall responsibility for Quality Assurance is taken away from the contractor and given to a third party who is unlikely to be corrupted (that is, paid enough so as not to be readily bought to turn the other way) and is competent to ensure that what he/she is seeing is compliant with a properly constituted specification, things will not change.

The word quality will continue to hang its head in shame and look back to that once-glorious time when its name meant something.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Simon Hope

Three decades as a self-employed coating consultant for the oil majors, military, offshore contractors and coating manufacturers—plus stints in shipping, power generation and other industries—have provided plenty of fodder for Simon Hope’s sharp observations. He welcomes “a healthy or unhealthy debate” on any coating topic, adding: “I never cease to be amazed at the messes that individuals manage to achieve—and, having reached rock bottom, seem to think that dynamiting is the way forwards.”

SEE ALL CONTENT FROM THIS CONTRIUBTOR

   

Tagged categories: Quality control; Simon Hope

Comment from Tim Race, (4/26/2013, 8:48 AM)

Simon I couldn't agree more. Perhaps we should change the names to Criteria Control and Criteria Assurance, so as not to confuse the job/product criteria with actual quality.


Comment from Billy Russell, (4/26/2013, 2:49 PM)

Simon, Great and very true article,"But" :) In giving the responsibility of Quality to a 3rd party inspection firm there needs to be "Major Changes" As it stands now 3rd party inspection firms have No guarentee/warranty associated with there inspection services being offerd, Contractors are only required to pass a 1 year inspection, then the owners are on thier own, 3rd party inspection firms(Brides) get paid to observe, Document, & Report that the coating project was done in accordance with the specefication as the owners eyes and ears on site, using terms in there reports like "Area observed appeared to meet the specification " when I asked what that in fact means I was told by a PM that say out of 15 stringers coated if 12 fail, then the area we observed was the 3 that didnt(true story)I resigned form that firm the next morning. Most of these jobs are federally funded, but the federal government have NO oversight regarding the specifications and or the inspection documentation being done on these multi million dollar coating projects,until we make the Bonding company/3rd party inspection firms stand behind the work that is being done for 5 years, Quality/craftsmanship will continue to be a dirty word. My name is Blly Russell,and I approve this message.


Comment from Andrew Sedor, (7/23/2013, 4:04 AM)

I couldn't disagree more. I think it is a shame you have such a low opinion of our human nature. I believe the majority does take pride in performing quality work. Maybe you would suggest that it is a fluke that throughout my career I have witnessed contractors who follow good painting practices and provide quality work without coercion or policing. I agree there are a few bad apples. Things are not as grim as you suggest.


Comment from Lee Wilson, (12/3/2014, 3:03 PM)

Hi Andrew did you read the blog as i am sure simon stated "Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of people out there do not fit these stereotypes and do produce consistently excellent work in the face of adversity. But (and there is always a “but”) human nature, greed and unrealistic programs will always lead to problems unless proper controls are put in place" seems a pretty fair statement to me ?


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