Show and Tell

How do quality professionals explain their jobs?

by Marcia M. Weeden

I have a confession to make. One of the most frustrating things I have encountered during the course of my quality career is trying to explain what I do for a living to people who have no idea what quality is or what it does.

You would think that somebody who has spent a career dealing with specifications, root cause analyses, corrective and preventive actions, and regulatory agencies could handle this, but it has not been easy.

People just do not get it. I see the sideways glances seeking escape. I cringe as their forced, pasted smiles become more forced and pasted.

Sometimes, if I am lucky, somebody might guess, "Is that like quality control? You inspect things?"

I have hope. At least they know that much.

Usually, though, they’ve never heard of "quality insurance." It goes downhill from there, typically a nanosecond or two after I start nicely explaining it is "assurance," not "insurance." That’s when the pained expressions start appearing.

Socially, we’re all being pleasant. It was an innocent inquiry about what I do for a living. I’m trying hard not to be rude by answering their question, and they’re suddenly remembering someplace else they have to be.

The quality professional in me is horrified. I am not meeting the customer’s expectations and nobody is walking away satisfied. While other professionals enjoy instant recognition, my quality brain is switching to overdrive. I am losing my audience. Explaining really shouldn’t be this difficult.

I have even had trouble identifying where to begin. Because the responsibilities that fall in quality are so numerous, I’ve wondered, "How can I ever show them the whole picture? Quality is huge. I can’t simply go out and take a photo of what I do."

No, but I can draw it and approximate it. How? With illustrations—show and tell. So often the best solutions are the simplest ones.

One problem, though. I cannot draw a straight line regardless of my intentions. Lucky for me, though, there is clip art.

I came up with three illustrations to use as springboards to explain what I do for a living.

  1. The quality profession (Figure 1). I used a circle because the profession encompasses a lot. Some of the clip art lies outside the circle to illustrate that quality involves factors apart from our work locations.
  2. The manufacturing environment (Figure 2). It’s easiest for people to follow because of an obvious path from start to finish.
  3. A services environment (Figure 3). I used the example of a health insurance company dependent on computers and various demands put on it by providers, customers and regulatory agencies because everybody has had some experience with these areas—people can relate. It also demonstrates how complex those systems are, how quickly they can become complicated and how much there is to take into consideration.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

The clip art? It’s easily recognizable, non-threatening and simple to understand.

Using these figures, people finally get what I do for a living. Maybe they don’t understand the particulars, but at least the confusion is gone. There are smiles and acceptance, and we all walk away happy.

Marcia M. Weeden is a quality consultant and owner of Quality Excellence Services, in Barrington, RI. She has master’s degree in textiles, clothing and related art with specializations in quality and adult training from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. Weeden is a member of ASQ and a certified engineer and technician. She is also the voice of the customer chair of ASQ’s Olde Colony Section in southeastern Massachussetts.

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