Q: I’m a young engineer who has worked as a process engineer at various organizations. I want to pursue a career in quality, starting as a quality engineer. I have already initiated these steps by earning my ASQ quality engineer certification. How can I best portray my experience to new employers, even without a direct quality role or ISO experience?
Tinley Park, IL
A: When applying for jobs in quality, be sure to highlight your education, process engineering experience in various organizations (and possibly in various industries), as well as your ASQ quality engineer certification and your mastery of that body of knowledge (BoK).
Quality management requires a holistic view of an enterprise, including a focus on process improvement, customer delight, employee engagement, leadership, information management and business results. Based on your education and experience, you likely have helped initiate and complete numerous process and quality improvement initiatives to benefit the organizations. Cite specific examples when you’re applying for quality engineering positions.
Successful quality and process improvement hinges on managing change and projects. Be sure to cite any specific experience you have running a project with good results. This skill is portable and can be acquired through project management training. When approaching a potential employer, expand on your team building and interpersonal skills. Furthermore, if there is an opportunity at your current workplace, volunteer to lead a quality improvement project to help you gain even more experience you can leverage when applying for new positions.
In your prior assignments at various organizations as a process engineer, you likely touched on several of the quality management-related areas discussed in this response. Citing specific examples will help future employers see how your previous work experience applies to these new roles.
The fact that you have taken personal initiative to master the BoK and become a certified quality engineer, and your eagerness to bring in additional BoKs and quality resources from ASQ to benefit a new organization will work to your advantage. As an example, you can refer to my experience leveraging ASQ resources to develop my career in quality management at AT&T Bell Laboratories.1
Chairman and president
Business Excellence Inc.
- Manu K. Vora, "Purpose and Principle," Quality Progress, January 2014, pp. 46-47.
Q: Can you share some best practices on how robust your product or process traceability system should be? How can my organization evaluate the effectiveness of its traceability system?
A: In manufacturing processes, the extent to which traceability is maintained may be dictated by customers, regulatory requirements and business risk. When customers or regulations do not specify requirements, determining the right level of traceability is often treated as a cost-benefit decision.1
For finished goods or services, traceability may not seem to be as important, but there are still business reasons to maintain a robust system. During investigations of customer complaints, conducting effective root cause analysis requires you to retrace every step of the process back to the externally sourced raw material and to review every likely cause of failure. Detailed records help to accelerate the investigation process, build a hypothesis to account for the failure and replicate the process settings for root cause confirmation. Similarly, with a traceability system in place, results for any corrective action can be compared with historical data to verify improvements.
Establishing traceability for historical events depends on record retention. If an organization maintains its traceability information electronically, its back-up policy for records, infrastructure for data storage and data reliability, and security must be verified. For information maintained in hardcopy form, the retention period, storage conditions and requirements are verified.
Any traceability system should be tested periodically to ensure that the designed solution meets expectations. As an assessment starting point, Table 1 presents an illustration of end-to-end traceability. Depending on the nature of its business, products, services and associated risks, not every organization will need the level of traceability described here.2 However, every organization can at least use the table to consider where it stands with respect to traceability.
Take samples from finished goods or customer-returned goods. If you can trace the process step-by-step all the way back to the source, you will have an opportunity to understand any current gaps.
Apply this table for every process. Add any new traceability item to the table under one or more of the categories of variables: people, process, equipment, material and environment. Strike out any areas that do not apply for your business. Circle items if you identify gaps, and add a check mark next to items for which you have compliance to traceability. Where traceability exists, document the pertinent information for the sample selected. A final summary of gaps and compliance organized by process step will provide your management with an overall picture of the strength of the system.
Keep in mind this is not a one-time exercise. Apply this approach periodically to ensure that traceability system effectiveness is maintained.
Director, quality assurance
San Jose, CA
- Govind Ramu, "In the Know," Quality Progress,
August 2008, pp. 36-43.
- International Organization for Standardization, ISO 9001:2008—Quality management systems—requirements, http://asq.org/quality-press/display-item/index.html?item=T860.
Goodden, Randall L.,
"Better Safe Than Sorry," Quality
Progress, May 2008, pp. 28-34.
Pylipow, Peter E., "Top 10 Tips For Shop Floor Audit Readiness," Quality Progress, November 2003, pp. 52-57.