Quality is a profession at the heart of our advanced, industrialized, information society. It is also a field that is full of opportunity. Job boards are peppered with postings for quality managers, quality assurance specialists, quality auditors, quality control technicians, and other roles. Although academic coursework in Quality is in its infancy, opportunities in business are abundant.
Read on to find out more about the field of Quality. As you read, think about where you and your mix of interests and skills might fit in.
Reflect for a moment on some everyday things: the marvelous automotive machinery that gets you around town. The safe and effective pharmaceuticals that you take for common or more serious ailments. The flawless email, word processing and photo backup provided by Google free of charge. The item you ordered online (after Amazon suggested it to you) with a click or two that arrived the next morning.
These consumer objects are at the customer-facing end of highly complex systems. Underlying it all are quality systems that are built and continuously reinvented in order to meet the customer’s requirements and to deliver delight.
This last term – delight – might be unexpected. But it provides perspective on the endgame here. In a competitive marketplace, a company gets an advantage by delivering customer delight, by doing it consistently, and by doing it for a lower price than its competitors.
Amazon again provides a good example. The online giant has continually improved its shipping times while keeping prices low. It adds new perks to its Prime loyalty program regularly. And it has a customer-focused return and refund policy that continues to earn praise from consumer advocates and commentators.
It’s no wonder then that 49% of US households hold an Amazon Prime subscription. Amazon’s astonishing sales and membership numbers will continue to grow as long as the company keeps delighting its customers.
Things can go wrong
On the other hand, we have all had negative experiences with these same companies and their peers. I once read with astonishment how a man lost almost all his personal data when his Google (!) cloud backup somehow failed. I have had frustrating and fruitless email exchanges with third-party Amazon sellers when my packages never arrived (Amazon eventually reimbursed me). I received a surprise bill from my dentist when they performed an x-ray I wasn’t due for under my insurance plan. And I have gotten scary letters from at least two large financial companies apologizing for a hacking breach of my personal and account information.
Sometimes it’s small things and near-misses that spook you. A slip-up can shake your confidence in a company you normally trust and cause you to permanently take your money elsewhere. I recall with horror a time when I worked in a hospital emergency room and the nurse read and took notes in a patient’s paper chart for several minutes before realizing it was the wrong one. The nurse apologized. The patient expressed his totally justified dismay. In response the nurse said, “Yeah, it happens” and continued in the correct chart. I would not blame the patient if he chose to write a negative Yelp review of the hospital, bring the incident to hospital management, and never use that clinic and hospital system again. After all, what if he had been given drugs or another invasive treatment based on someone else’s chart?
Consider some other high-profile quality issues: the Takata airbag deaths and subsequent recalls, the Equifax security breach, the Wells Fargo unauthorized account scandal, etc. These are all quality issues, some of them extremely serious.
Clearly, even the big players, with the slick websites, high-tech equipment and highly paid staff, don’t have it completely figured out.
Bringing it back to you personally
So how does this relate to you, as a student, a job seeker, a technician, a supervisor, or whatever?
Start by asking yourself if any of what I described above appealed to you. Does a commitment to continuous improvement match your values? Are you interested in eliminating waste (wasted resources, wasted time, and wasted human potential)? Are you interested in systems thinking? Do you consider yourself perceptive, thorough, candid, courageous, and helpful to others?
This mix of values, traits and talents are the foundation of career in Quality.
Read through my other articles and contact me with questions and comments.