Last week, in the train, I meet a friend. He’s team leader and was upset by the evolution of the process he’s working in. He explains to me than now more and more the people working in his team are less interested in quality. Since 5 years, his team is divided in two : doers and checkers. The checkers, the most experienced people, are assuring quality by inspection. Before the doers (the juniors) and checkers were doing the same job but had a clear purpose: “design quality into the services” rather than inspect it.
He’s not the only one to be upset, W Edwards Deming would also be. The third of the 14 points of W Edwards Deming for the transformation of management suggests that inspection is too late: "Cease reliance on mass inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place."
Today, like my friend in the train, a lot of people are working in processes organized around mass inspection. At the end of a process, dedicated full-time collaborators inspect 100% of these products/services, we called them the checker. The ratio of checker/maker is even sometimes of 100%. Those checkers validate the good and ask the doers to rework for the bad. Because full-time checkers control the service, the Management Thinking behind is “the customer is receiving a good service”.
I also see many problems with that thinking. I would only illustrate two.
- It’s expensive. How many resources, time and money dedicates the company to control and to produce products that have to be “reworked” ?
- Don’t we waste our people potential by using mass inspection? Is it not better to use our most experienced resources to build quality in the process instead to control the quality?
Checkers have not to be responsible for the quality of the output but should be responsible to put quality in the process, to produce quality, first time right. Too much reliance on inspection also supports a "blame the maker" mentality.
I don’t mean the goal is to remove all inspection. I don’t mean the goal is to remove all checkers. I mean the purpose of inspection need to be redefined to produce the right things right. Inspection is useful as a means to learn and to drive further quality improvement efforts, rather than looking for a culprit to blame. When organizations work to improve processes and systems, risks, defects are systematically reduced.