Using Checklists to Produce Quality Engineering Services
At Optimation Technology we design, fabricate and install equipment for the manufacturing industries. One of our goals is to provide services of the highest quality possible. Just how can a company like us define and achieve quality for our customers. Is there a subjective standard that can be used or is quality more objective in nature?
One definition of quality is “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.” But just how can we make a judgement on the degree of excellence? One way we do this is to survey our clients at the end of each project. We ask for their input on price, schedule and performance. And they give us feedback. Clearly this feedback is subjective in nature and there is no absolute chart by which they measure their responses. And a score at the end of a project doesn’t mean there is a good quality system in place. The final survey only measures a few symptoms but doesn’t look at the core processes, procedures and tasks that enabled consistent performance.
A good quality system will have enough definition of what needs to be done to enable consistent performance and monitoring of it so enable consistency without overly burdening the participants and slowing down their work. More regulated processes, such as those for food or pharmaceutical manufacturing, may require a more detailed approach. But in its simplified form, a quality system is nothing more than a series of check lists that enable each participant to be reminded of what needs to be done and some rules about housekeeping that prevent delays or omissions to get in the way of timely outcomes.
I first learned about check lists and what they meant about quality as a young boy scout on camping trips. The first couple of trips I arrived without all of the essential gear. It’s hard to cook when you forget your mess kit and hard to stay warm when you forget a sweater. From that time forward I began checking my gear against a list before I packed it. The result was a much higher level of comfort success while camping. I learned to apply the concept of working to list to other areas as well. Anything we do in life can yield similar results. Working to a list to yields consistency, makes performance easier and more automatic. There is a balance of how much detail goes on a list and what degree of OCD we put into the system requirements.
I mentioned above that a good quality system will also include some housekeeping rules. I have a friend who has gotten in the habit of putting dirty dishes in the sink but not washing them. At first this saves time and there is always another clean one in the cabinet. By the end of a week or two the pile is higher than the sink and food has hardened. Not only do they have to dig down in the pile to find what they want, they spend more time cleaning it than they would have initially. The same will be true in our routine work processes that are intended to provide quality performance.
Optimation has been registered ISO9000 for over two decades and to the CSIA standard for 15 years. In our company quality system we have lots of check lists. We’ve tied in lists for our safety program, our apprenticeship program and other facets of our work. We try hard to enable employee behavior and housekeeping in ways that enable safety, efficiency and in turn quality. All of these are things that produce results our clients see. Perhaps we should survey them on more of the details of how we perform.