Outsourcing Quality

by Greg Hutchins

Our company provides outsourced quality services to businesses and federal agencies. How is business? It’s booming. There has been a dramatic expansion of outsourced quality services in the last year.

What does this mean for you? Business as usual is rapidly disappearing for quality professionals. This is a time for concern for some, while for others it is a time for opportunity.

Let’s focus on what you can do to position yourself for success by examining the following critical questions:

  • What is outsourcing?
  • How do you know your job is in jeopardy?
  • What can you do to remain employable?
  • What do outsourcers look for?

What Is Outsourcing?

Outsourcing involves moving work, products, services, processes, people or technology to contractors. These contractors or sources can be in the United States or offshore.

Companies outsource for various reasons. For low-tech products, cost control and cost reduction are the major reasons. For high value products and services, technology access is the major reason.

Business flexibility is another reason because outsourced product suppliers can be managed much like inventory. If demand is low, supplier orders can be reduced without forcing staff reductions.

Another reason quality is outsourced is seldom discussed or revealed in the press. Technology is rapidly changing. Professional requirements and expectations for quality professionals are increasing.

Change is difficult, and quality professionals may not or do not want to learn new skills, are not capable of learning or are protected by work rules. So, the company outsources quality to find more capable, knowledgeable and flexible quality resources.

How Do You Know Your Job Is in Jeopardy?

Today’s prevalent business model is to retain what’s core and outsource noncritical processes. When a company decides to outsource, it has made the business decision that quality management, assurance or control activities are not core (for business) or not inherently governmental (for federal agencies).

There are several early warning indicators quality may be outsourced, there may be a reduction in force and your position may ultimately be outsourced:

  • The quality manager is not being brought to the table for outsourcing (make or buy) decisions.
  • The top quality position is relegated to the manager level.
  • Management is already outsourcing training and other noncore functions.
  • Quality decisions are unilaterally imposed on your organization.
  • Management starts talking with consulting or management advisory firms about quality management issues. Moreover, you are not advised of these discussions or asked for your views on critical quality issues.

What Can You Do To Remain Employable?

There are three distinct phases in outsourcing quality. At each stage there are value added, positioning alternatives for you.

In the early stage of outsourcing quality, the quality organization is usually kept in the dark. Think mushroom management. A firm such as ours is brought in under a nondisclosure agreement to benchmark quality requirements and then baseline your core quality competencies. We then draw up an outsourcing gap analysis with strategic recommendations.

At this stage, ask your boss what the organization’s plans are and where you fit into those plans. It is critical you articulate the value you bring to the organization. What have you accomplished? Do you offer unique and differentiable services? How do you make money for the company?

Your boss may not divulge much. However, it is critical that you explain your desire to be part of the team and how you offer long-term value to the organization and can assist in the transition.

In the second stage, the decision has been made to outsource all quality or just a piece or pieces of it. Your organization will retain key personnel to manage the contract, liaise with suppliers on technical issues and provide oversight of the external quality contractor. These are high level positions that manage professional service agreements, control product quality and assure service level performance.

In the third stage, an outsourcing company such as ours assumes operational quality responsibilities. The outsourcing company needs qualified people who understand the company’s internal quality systems, product specifications, supply management systems and logistical systems.

In other words, we need your institutional knowledge and capabilities. Therefore, the higher your technical knowledge is, the higher your value is.

What Do Outsourcers Look For?

At this stage, all is not lost. What do we and other outsourcers look for? Approach the outsourcing manager and pitch him or her your compelling value, your differentiators, your ability to keep the client satisfied and, most important, your ability to make money for the outsourcer. Beware—there will be cherry picking from existing staff.

Outsourcers look for folks with a good attitude. While we look for aptitude, most importantly we hire for attitude—people with the right entrepreneurial, can-do spirit.

Outsourcers can train people in risk management and supply management. However, we cannot train for attitude. We look for three “selfs” in our company. Candidates must be:

  • Self-selecting. You want to work with the outsourcer.
  • Self-managing. You do not have to be told what to do.
  • Self-correcting. You can correct your behaviors if they aren’t working.

Sooner or later, what I have described will confront you. How you react will result in one of two widely different scenarios: personal calamity or opportunity.

GREG HUTCHINS is an engineering principal with Quality Plus Engineering and Lean SCM in Portland, OR. He is a member of ASQ.

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