Satisfying Customer Needs: Life Is Quality

by Johanna Samot

When I think about quality, I immediately think about satisfying customer requirements. And the more I think about it, the more I realize quality is part of everything I do.

I got into quality because I have always followed my heart. Actually, I got into quality even before I was born. My great-grandmother Julia wanted a child from her favorite grandson. So I started satisfying customers right away—she was the main customer for my existence.

As life moved on, I went to school because our culture requires people to be educated to get jobs and survive. Society was my customer. I got the best grades because my parents—my main customers at the time—required me to do my best. During my teens, my main customers swapped from my parents to my friends. To be part of the group, I started listening to rock music and wearing painted, psychedelic jeans.

When I was mature enough to focus on myself as my main customer, I realized I wanted to be independent as soon as possible and travel the world. I wanted a satisfying career in which I could fulfill my personal needs. What better choice than industrial engineering? After all, I could finish school in five years, get a job and get myself a Mustang.

That’s when my problems started. Now my main customers were tough—those professors never stopped asking for assignments! However, I was able to overcome obstacles and get my degree in five years.

I was working before I graduated for a medical devices company in Puerto Rico, my home, and I was able to travel for business and pay for European vacations.

One day I woke up feeling my main customer was dissatisfied. I wanted something else in life. Coincidentally, I received an e-mail from a friend saying sometimes we need to follow our hearts and risk everything we have. Following my heart was my own requirement. So, I approached my boss and told him I was leaving. He was shocked, because my career as an industrial engineering supervisor had been brilliant until that point. I was moving up the ladder—I had received a promotion each year.

The next day I posted my résumé on the Web and immediately received an offer in Mexico. I left everything and everybody and followed my heart, fulfilling my own requirements.

After that, I decided to move to the Northeastern United States, and I got a job with a company as a Six Sigma Black Belt. A year later, I was offered the Six Sigma Master Black Belt position for which I had to again travel the world.

Due to global economic phenomena, many U.S. manufacturing operations are moving to Mexico or China. My position had to relocate to Mexico, and I was also given the choice of engineering roles in Belgium. I wanted to continue my life in the Northeastern United States, and after a month of job hunting, I was offered a quality program management position working for Raytheon, which is where I am now.

When I was in school, I loved math. There were no arguments about the answers. Right and wrong were easy. Over time, I have learned customer requirements are not always as black and white. Speed and flexibility are key factors to being an excellent supplier. We can be suppliers to other companies, co-workers and our families, but we first need to satisfy our main customers—ourselves.

We can predict our processes, but we cannot predict exactly what a customer wants. We can have a plan, but like the character Forrest Gump said in the movie of the same name: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.” We can have what we think is a solid strategy to listen to our customers’ voices and satisfy their needs, but to perform with excellence we must be willing to take risks and be flexible.

I am still working on my graduate degree, have lots of ambitions and still have far to go, but even if I die tomorrow, I’ll know I have satisfied my main customer—myself.

JOHANNA SAMOT is a performance excellence program manager for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, RI. She has a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. Samot is an ASQ member and certified quality manager.

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