Production vs. Quality – Who is Right?

Trying To Get Product Out The Door While Meeting Quality Standards Can Be A Nightmare.

By Steve Schumacher

Successful companies in all industries have always strived to produce quality products, at a reasonable price, and in sufficient quantity to supply demand. If any one of those three elements is absent, profits suffer and customers are disappointed and take their business elsewhere. Some customers demand the lowest price consistently. 

Others will not budge on the best quality. Customer business cycles will often dictate the quantity that customers need at any given time. To consistently meet customer needs, a company needs to be incredibly agile and flexible on all fronts.

For all the years I have been in the consulting business, there has been a conflict between the quality control and the operations departments. Not physical conflict. Conflict between competing measures of success. 

The quality folks have certain standards that must be met before the product goes out the door, while the operations folks try to get as much product out the door as possible. Most companies give quality control the power to hold up shipments if they do not meet quality standards. That is a lot of power that sometimes rubs operations folks the wrong way. 

As a leader, what can you do to get plenty of product out the door while meeting quality standards? How can you keep conflict and hard feelings to a minimum and keep a team atmosphere when two key departments seem to be at odds?

Recognize that disagreement is inevitable. If you have your processes, systems and policies in good working order, the times that major disagreements between quality and production will be few. You will never be able to eliminate those differences completely, but you can work to minimize the frequency and depth of them. Given that, do your best to ensure that everything in your organization points toward high quality and high quantity, on schedule.

Mediate disagreements quickly. As soon as you become aware that something has happened that put production and quality at odds, you need to address it. The longer you wait, the more you risk that both sides dig in and have a more difficult time meeting a middle ground. Meet with representatives of each department separately, collect the data, and hear them out. When you have all the facts, and have let the parties vent a bit, it is time to bring them together and explain your perspective, as a leader. You then have a choice, make the decision yourself and tell them, or let them decide. The more you can involve them in the decision about the way forward, the more ownership they will have in the decision.

Set a collaborative culture. As a leader, your goal should be to create a culture where departments collaborate and cooperate horizontally across departments. Look for opportunities for all departments to spend time with each other personally as well as professionally. Doing that will help build relationships where people understand each other. When people understand each other, they will work to overcome challenges to those relationships. Stephen Covey said – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Educate everyone on everything. In most organizations, we spend a lot of time and money to train our employees on their individual jobs and responsibilities. That training is targeted at productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, and quality. It is very vertically focused. In order to minimize conflicts in the workplace, set up formal training for all employees on all aspects of the business – production, quality, maintenance, finance, human resources, IT, etc. That training should not be in depth. It should be enough training to give everyone an understanding and appreciation of the environment, expectations, and challenges all departments face. There are tools called learning maps that can help give everyone that level of understanding. 

Establish common goals. Clearly, you must work with your employees to establish individual and department goals for whatever time frame is meaningful for you. To help departments minimize differences and work toward bigger picture goals, establish and reward departments like operations and quality control for meeting common goals, along with their individual ones. You must weight those metrics significantly so people know that you want them to achieve, not just their goals, but the cooperative goals also. 

Share responsibility. Train your quality and operations folks to solve their own issues. The best of all worlds is that when conflict arises, employees and managers recognize it, deal with it, and carry on. That is a sign of a mature organization.

Conflict and disagreements between operations and quality will happen. What differentiates organizations is how they deal with those differences when they happen. 

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected]