The A’s Have It

Three attributes to help you excel as a quality professional

by Lorri Williams

Much to the surprise of my colleagues today, I originally began my college career pursuing a degree in home economics with the intention of becoming a teacher. After the first few classes, I realized that my passion lay in the engineering realm so I transferred to an industrial technology major. The major offered a concentration in quality and production, which piqued my interest.

One of my fondest memories from college was a final exam that included the simple question, "Identify five ways to inspect quality into your product." I watched my fellow students struggle—like me—until I realized it was a trick question. I simply wrote, "You can’t inspect quality into the product. You must build it in."

I was one of only two students in the class who received full credit for the question.

Now, 30 years later, I reflect on that principle as I drive quality into the systems, processes and tools that are used to manufacture and service the products of the business I work for.

Out of college, I started my career as a manufacturing engineer, driving process control and repeatability, and following the principle, "Build the quality in."

After two years, the local government defense contract administration service representative strongly encouraged me to consider a quality engineer position. As he put it, I had the three A’s required to excel in quality: attitude, aptitude and ability.

He was right. After I became a quality engineer, I advanced to senior quality engineer and eventually moved to another organization where I grew into the role of quality assurance manager.

I’ve continued to grow in my quality roles—in responsibility and level—by following some basic principles over the years:

  • Focus on the system, process and tools.
  • Hire people who have the first two A’s, if not all three.
  • Help them grow as well.

Did I make the right move when I changed my degree in college? Absolutely. It took me several years to realize that many of the principles that make a great home economist are the same that make a great quality practitioner: experimentation, testing, quality control, analytical thinking, a focus on systems, processes and tools, and especially listening to and acting on customer feedback.

As a wife, mother, leader and volunteer, I use these principles daily, and I find that they pair nicely for personal and professional success.

Lorri Williams is an engineering leader at Bently Nevada LLC in Minden, NV, and is a senior member of ASQ.

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