Reigniting quality

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get their organization excited about quality again? I’m trying to create a quality program or, even better, a quality culture and could use some help/p>

Terry Zhu
Winston-Salem, NC

A: The short answer to this question is to get back to business fundamentals. On the surface, the question appears to be basic; however, none of us can take for granted the importance of being an active champion for quality. Whether you are a novice or an industry veteran, you will continually find reasons to consider your own response to this question.

Based on my 20-plus years of quality management experience working for various organizations in different parts of the world, one thing I am more than sure of is that no one is anti-quality. The problem is the interpretation of quality that management and employees in other organizational functions struggle with.

To my disbelief—and likely also yours—people still have the narrow view that the final inspection of outgoing goods or services constitutes quality. That’s why I recommend a return to fundamentals to demonstrate how a well-implemented quality management system can make a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.1

But of course you will need an evangelist. You cannot single-handedly change established behaviors and beliefs. This is where the second part of the question fits in: creating a quality culture. And I can unequivocally say that the culture of an organization is primarily driven by senior management, especially the CEO.

Employees take their cues from senior leaders. If organizational leaders provide little more than lip service on quality and yield to quarter-end revenue pressure, this is exactly what employees will do.

Those of us with roles in quality can be catalysts to help break this cycle, as long as we have patience and perseverance. And whether it’s senior leaders or fellow employees you’re trying to convince, you need to offer success stories.

In my experience, standing on a soapbox, screaming at the top of your lungs and emphasizing why quality is important will not generate the excitement you’re looking for. Pitching a quality program before creating any initial success will cause others to view it as administrative overhead and out of touch with reality.

Start with quantifying your organization’s failure costs, such as customer returns, in-process fall outs, process wastes and lost revenue due to delays. With a little help from project and operational finance functions, you can collect these data. At this stage, failures calculated to the nearest thousands of dollars will do.

Next, you should draft an improvement plan, including details on executive sponsorship and resources that will be required. Position improvement as an organizational problem-solving exercise rather than a new ambitious program you are launching. If you do, people will support your efforts.

Execute the plan effectively and demonstrate the savings, explaining to senior leaders and all employees how those savings link to quality. Be sure to attribute the success to the entire team. This will give your organization a concrete reason to be excited about quality and the leadership that drives results.

After you have built your successes and have senior leaders on your side, you should find yourself in a better position to outline plans for creating an even stronger quality foundation through increasingly ambitious quality programs.


  1. For more, see the "Checking in" section of Expert Answers in the October 2011 edition of Quality Progress.

Govind Ramu
Director, quality assurance
SunPower Corp.
San Jose, CA

For More Information

  • Dew, John, "Tribal Quest," Quality Progress, December 2011, pp. 57-61.


Going nuclear

Q: I am an ASQ member in Knoxville, TN, and my company works primarily for government agencies. Our quality assurance program is NQA-1 compliant, but in the past few years, I have noticed that pretty much all government contracts involving nuclear work are going toward NQA-1, while ISO 9000 is kind of a dead issue in the nuclear world. With this huge shift in quality assurance programs, I thought it was weird that I couldn’t recall ever reading much about NQA-1 in QP. Could you shed some light on NQA-1?

Bud Slaven
Knoxville, TN

A: NQA-1 is a national consensus standard for quality assurance for nuclear material applications, structures, systems and components of nuclear facilities. Published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), NQA-1 evolved as guidance for implementing the federal regulations pertaining to quality assurance for nuclear power plants, fuel reprocessing plants and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reactor and non-reactor nuclear facilities.

The relevant section in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 10 CFR Part 50 Appendix B, "Quality Assurance Criteria for Nuclear Power Plants and Fuel Reprocessing Plants," best explains the applicability of the regulations and NQA-1:

It covers "all activities affecting the safety-related functions of those structures, systems and components; these activities include designing, purchasing, fabricating, handling, shipping, storing, cleaning, erecting, installing, inspecting, testing, operating, maintaining, repairing, refueling and modifying."

It is important to note that the phrase "all activities affecting the safety-related functions" limits the scope of NQA-1’s applicability. Many of the buildings and systems at a nuclear facility do not perform safety-related functions and thus can fall under less stringent regulations and standards, such as ISO 9000.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff reviewed ISO 9001:2000—Quality management systems—Requirements and performed a comparison to NQA-1 appendix B: quality requirements. Based on this review, the NRC staff concluded that supplemental quality requirements would need to be applied when implementing ISO 9001 within the existing regulatory framework.

This comparison is documented in an eight-page attachment to Policy Issue Information SECY-03-0117, "Approaches for Adopting More Widely Accepted International Quality Standards," which is available at www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/secys/2003/secy2003-0117/2003-0117scy.pdf.

James J. Rooney
Director, quality and lean Six Sigma services
ABS Consulting
Knoxville, TN

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