Category: Quality Control

How do you know if 3rd party quality professionals on-site are ethical?

One concern often expressed from organizations considering third-party quality representation on-site at factories is concerns about ethical behavior. Organizations want to know that engineers, auditors and inspectors truly are unbiased during evaluations and void of any questionable influence from other interests.  It’s a fair question, especially considering the stories many have heard  or have experienced for themselves.

Here’s what works for us:

Recruitment – It’s important to take the extra time to be selective when seeking to add resources, whether it’s a direct team member or a potential partner.  Through the selection process, we are careful to screen interested quality professionals and look beyond resume qualifications. We often pose ethical situations during interviews to evaluate responses.

Training – Training is an on-going process.  For training to be successful, it is also reinforced.  Code of Conduct training is incorporated into many team building events.  Standard ethical behavior within this documentation demands that no compensation of any kind be accepted (monetary, material, meals, entertainment, etc.).  Another point incorporated into the Code of Conduct is that all travel expenses much be accompanied by original receipts.  A copy of the Code of Conduct is reviewed and signed annually.

At Pro QC, our employees are on career tracks, and our HR policies and training are designed so they fully recognize that they have more to lose by accepting a bribe than they’ll gain.  Also, our Technical Supervisor report review process reveals inconsistencies in reports and findings, making it very difficult to initially conceal inaccurate findings, while the traceability of each engineer to each report and shipment will fully reveal the source of any inaccurate findings.  The reviewer is also traceable in the system.  This also holds true for recognition of errors, not only for intentional misrepresentations, and allows us to constantly monitor and improve the quality of our services and training needs of our field personnel.

Correction Action – Although infrequent, should an issue occur where a representative is claimed to have committed an unethical action, an in-depth investigation is conducted.  Often and unfortunate, the factory may place undeserved blame on a 3rd party at a point in time and is deferring other issues unnecessarily.  While many factories welcome quality control efforts, others perceive them as an inconvenience and would prefer to work without an unbiased system of assurance.  An investigation of any allegation is required.

For any team member or partner found to knowingly have engaged in unethical behavior, that individual is no longer used as a resource. Zero tolerance further supports the importance of adhering to the Code of Conduct.  It is also noted with the signed Code of Conduct that personal financial and/or legal liability may result from any claims caused by a violation.

Evaluating inspection reports

Many companies anxiously await product quality inspection results and focus on the “accept” or “reject” status alone.  However, it is important to note that useful information exists within the details that are worth examining.  Here are a few things that should be considered:

Defect Trends – An accepted inspection doesn’t mean that no defects were noted.  It just means they fell within the AQL (Acceptable Quality Limit).  Maintaining a spreadsheet of defect data can help identify trends and areas of improvement.  Using the idea of 80/20 (Pareto), continuous improvement efforts can be targeted at defects contributing 20% of the total, with the expectation that an 80% overall improvement will result.

Packaging Variance – If packaging details are not provided in the product specification, the inspector will report the findings and use the package integrity testing (ISTA drop-test) to determine if there are any issues.  However, it is useful to note variations in packaging when they exist.  Digital photos and metric information is included within the reports.

Product Specification Revision – As inspection reports are issued and findings evaluated, changes to the product specification should be made as a continuous improvement effort.

For additional information regarding understanding the inspection process, click here.

Celebrating worker contributions & realizing the benefits of social audits

The first Monday in September is observed as Labor Day in the United States, which is a national holiday celebrating the contributions of workers.  Similar holidays are observed throughout the world.

Today, Samsung announced issues at several factories in China, indicating age disparities and other health and safety concerns.  They are committing to an evaluation of 144 suppliers before the end of the year, using documentation as a way to verify conformance to local regulations.  Apple and many other multinationals are facing similar issues and are working with NGOs, industry organizations and other 3rd parties such as Pro QC to improve supplier conditions and stakeholder confidence.

We have written several articles relating to on-site and verified social audits and are finding the request for such services are steadily increasing throughout the world.  Organizations of all sizes and throughout industries are realizing the benefits of proactive supplier management in this regard.

Benefits of ensuring worker’s rights through social audits include:

Human Resources – Recruitment & Retention Benefits 
Higher employee morale leads to greater rates of retention, which cuts the costs of recruiting and training new staff. In addition, a growing trend in recruitment appears to be concern regarding a company’s corporate social responsibility activities.

Increased Product Quality & Safety
Reducing defects and accidents enhances product quality. A less fatigued and adult workforce is less likely to cause accidents or defects on the production line. In addition, a supplier that shows little concern over health and safety is more likely to produce poor quality products.

Risk Management 
Proactive corporate responsibility offsets the risks of scandals or accidents that can create unwanted attention from consumers, regulators, government or the media.

Brand Development
Investing in a socially accountable supply chain benefits a company’s brand by differentiating from competition and building a positive reputation in the minds of consumers.

Stronger Management 
Providing training, defining responsibility and developing manuals will strengthen the management of the company.

Government Intervention 
If businesses take voluntary steps to ensure social accountability, they are more likely to avoid mandated government regulation and taxation.

For additional information regarding the components of social audits, read our full newsletter article.   The American Society for Quality, through theSRO, has recently issued the latest Pathways to Social Accountability as well, which always includes several relevant and convincing case studies.

The Handy Guide to Quality… Welcome!

ASQ’s recent Facebook post hit our radar with a reminder that World Quality Month is coming up in November.  And, what better time is there to “raise the voice” of quality?

On the World Quality Month site is a video that does a great job demonstrating quality’s importance and how it’s incorporated into all processes.  Presented by the Chartered Quality Institute, this is a must share…

S.M.A.R.T. quality planning & goal setting…

Planning and goal-setting are certainly two of the most challenging tasks an organization faces.  However you look at it, macro or micro, strategic or tactical, short or long-term, planning seamlessly finds its way into all functions of management.

Quality tools, such as flowcharts, fishbone diagrams, histograms, etc. add tremendous and inarguably invaluable assistance with this process, but the success hinges on whether or not you’re using the right one.  And, which one is the right one?  The most relevant answer is found in identifying the objective and subsequent details as accurately as possible.

This is where S.M.A.R.T. comes in… Planning and goal-setting effectively to work towards meeting or exceeding the objective.  It sounds quite simple, but using S.M.A.R.T. forces you to think broader and effectively ask the right questions that will later turn into result-driven action items.

Be S.M.A.R.T when planning or goal setting at any level…

S – Specific

For example, a quality problem identified with poor performance coming from a factory abroad isn’t solved by simply acknowledging there is “some” problem and then throwing different solutions at it to see if things get better.  By starting out specific, you lay out a roadmap for resolution.  In order to be specific, data collection is often required.  For example, are there any specific trends noted in the quality problem, such as raw material inconsistencies or labor shifts tied to production lots?  Are there seasonal or shipment quantity considerations? Figure out what is exactly the issue causing the poor performance.  Those trusty quality tools really come in handy here. But, if you define something in a general way, you’ll likely get a general result.  The same happens when you start by asking the wrong question.

M – Measurable

Part of being specific is to help identify what metrics can be employed so that there’s reliable and valid data available to determine progress and further action.  In the example above, use the trends identified to place values on improvement.  This expedites the corrective action process as well because decisions are made easier.  How do you know when you’ve succeeded?  You have to know the specific problem in order to get the specific data you need to measure the performance.

A – Attainable (Achievable)

Can the quality issue here be resolved? How can the goal be accomplished? Is that achievable based on the data gathered?  It may turn out the problem has a deeper root-cause, such as issues at the factory management level or raw material supplier inconsistency.  Some of the solutions may not be achievable based on the other requirements.  Remember, they all work together to form an organized system of goal setting and general planning.  If it turns out the solutions presented aren’t attainable, redefine the issue and subsequent corrective action as in this example.  Contingencies are important here.

R – Realistic (Relevant)

Is it realistic to focus on the actual quality defects noted or the process creating the defects?  Is it something that fits in with the existing goals of the organization?  Based on the information gathered, is it realistic to believe the problem can be resolved to an acceptable degree?

T – Timely (Or Tangible)

Especially when you’re dealing with issues that affect customers, timeliness is critical.  Gantt charts are excellent for determining the time requirements of a specific issue.  Using measurements as checkpoints often ensures timely execution.

For more information on S.M.A.R.T. goals and planning, we like these sites: