In Layman’s Terms

Explaining the quality profession to an outsider

by Juan D. Loera SR

I was recently asked a question by my son, who was about to enter his first year of university. "Dad, what is it you really do at work?" he asked, "and what degree did you get to become a quality manager?" 

I was happy my son wanted to know more about what I do, and his question sounded sincere. I also considered that he was facing the hard decision about what he wanted to pursue in university and as a career.

What we do

"Well, I work with members from all areas of our organization to ensure they have the tools they need to successfully do their job. I help update the systems that provide guidance to efficiently and effectively execute our organization’s processes. That way, we can ensure our customers receive a product that not only meets their expectations, but also provides a delightful experience. 

"I assist in auditing processes against standardized procedures and help develop the controls and verification tools that help ensure our processes are functioning correctly and producing acceptable outputs. I help department leaders assess the accuracy of the data they use to make business decisions and track trends to verify that operations are moving toward our organization’s goals." 

That comment was met with a blank stare. He didn’t ask any questions, but I knew the facial expression all too well; he had no idea what I meant. I continued:

"The information that we use to understand how our organization is doing is much like a report card at school. You know how well you are doing in a class based on the grade that you are given for the output of your work.

"The grades are set up on a scale so that you can see if you are passing or failing; and at what level you are actually passing—A is excellent and D is just barely passing. If your grades suffer that means your output is becoming unacceptable. You have to decide whether to work harder, get help to do better or suffer the consequences of poor grades.

"The data we collect let us know whether our organization is passing or failing so we can make adjustments as necessary to get back on track. Part of this data analysis includes identifying areas that we can do better in by identifying wasteful processes or process outcomes that do not meet our expectations. 

"When a faulty process is discovered, I lead the team members in charge of that process through discussions to pinpoint areas for improvement. We use different tools to help collect and organize our facts and ideas to better plan our approach.

Why is it important

"Part of the pursuit for a healthy profit margin comes from being able to know when organizational processes are negatively affecting profits and identifying challenges that cause an organization to go over budget. Many times, this is not obvious because we can get a little distracted by daily routines and our own wasteful practices that are not necessarily the best approach to doing our jobs," I said.

My son’s expression changed and I could tell that he was beginning to understand the quality profession.

He then asked, "So what kind of tools do you use?" I knew that explaining all the tools in The Quality Technician’s Handbook by Gary Griffith or The Quality Toolbox by Nancy Tague would entail a pretty lengthy conversation. I figured I would try connecting it back to a type of problem solving he understood. 

"The tools we use are more of a logical thinking guide. We take different approaches, depending on the situation and the scope of the potential impact. 

"For instance, if your gaming system is not letting you connect to the television, you immediately check off on what you know could be the reason: power cord unplugged, HD cord disconnected from system to television, game disc not inserted, or correct channel or input not selected.  You are using the process of elimination to determine what is causing the situation. 

"The tools we use document our process of elimination and puts it into a format that we can reference to validate what our data show us to be the cause.  The tools also assist us in documenting any corrective action procedures we took, and challenge us to ensure that we can prevent future occurrences of the same, or similar, failures.

"The goal for my work is to provide guidance for continuous improvement.  Our organization and its processes can always be better. In the business of making money, constantly striving to be better provides a higher chance of increasing profit."

The nodding of the head and body language gave me an indication that the information had registered and my son was ready to move on; our conversation needed to be over. 

As I reflected on the conversation, I could not help to chuckle to myself at the original question and how thankful I was for the opportunity to share that moment with my son. Many of you may struggle to verbalize our vast and ubiquitous industry, but I hope you are never again blindsided with the question, "What is it you really do at work?" 

Juan D. Loera SR. is the quality manager for Mastertag in Montague, MI. Loera has a bachelor’s degree in industrial management from Baker College in Flint, MI. An ASQ senior member, Loera is an ASQ-certified manager of quality/organizational excellence, quality auditor and technician.

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