Confessions of a Quality Manager  

Being the adventures of four jet-setting quality consultants who like to talk shop even more than they like good food and drink.

This is fantasy consulting. For the real thing, go to Fell Services' Quality pages.

The new Quality Manager is flexing his muscles. He's a Quality Manager to look after the other Quality Managers, a young, brash chap who's filling a job vacated over a year ago. And he's anxious to get to know the troops. He comes from a shortterm design, high volume company; but he's moved to a longterm, low volume company. He's moved from a company which used quality as a competitive weapon to ...

It was tactless, to say the least, for him to admit to be appalled and shocked (in public). It would have been equally tactless to point out that this company was still going, with a very healthy order book, whereas his old company, however shit hot with quality, had closed down. So people just thought it. And, to start with, when he came round, asking for people's opinions, they let him talk, slightly amused at his presumption, making allowances for his newness, probably thinking thoughts of their own while they casually said um, ah, that's interesting and oh in strict rotation.

Then the troops started to compare notes. He came from an intensely sociable background, so found it odd that the whole group didn't go off to lunch en masse; he was left to wander about, alone. No wonder, then, that he pounced on two of his troops and joined them for their meal. But did he have to keep asking them exactly the same questions he'd already asked them two days beforehand? Did he have to fire questions at them without listening to the responses? They reacted in sheer self-defence by changing their lunch times. (Though, after discussion, they are more likely to tell him that they are off duty at lunchtime, though are prepared to small talk).

So then it was time to meet the troops. Being generous to a fault (would be the kindest way of putting it), he bought bacon rolls for the first lot, using the departmental plastic money chit, and, while their mouths were full, talked for 55 minutes solidly. The second group were made of sterner stuff. He explained he wanted to get to know them; he started talking. One of the subordinate females, who had nothing to lose, asked if she could say something. Naturally, the new boss was all ears. She explained, without wishing to upset anyone, he was monopolising the conversation. There was a certain relaxing of the atmosphere. The alpha female then asked a couple of relevant and pointed questions, the answers to which showed that the new boss, though totally expert on quality techniques, knew nothing about the product and cared less. Worse, he favoured a bottom up approach, where all the work was done by the troops.

This is worthy stuff: except that in such an intensely competitive atmosphere, nothing can be done without senior management approval. Hell, no quality initiative in the history of the known world has ever succeeded without at least consensus from senior management. Withered, yes, been sidelined, certainly, but succeeded?

He then said how shocked he was at the state of the quality business groups, how a world-class company could not even get the simplest things done right, how he would had put a team in place to change the culture by next Friday, using a well-known loser (well, he wouldn't have known that). The eyes of his troops started to glaze, though one did ask if there was anything which he had found to admire in the company. There was a long pause, which he couldn't fill satisfactorily. But, to do him justice, he did try. He launched on a long anecdote about how marvellous his previous company was and how employees there liked nothing better than to be in Quality Improvement teams. It's going to be part of everyone's appraisal that they have to join or form a Quality Improvement team. It's unfortunate, but sad, that what goes in people's appraisal doesn't always come to pass. But the new chap says it will, this time. It's got to be different, after all, he's in charge now.

Fortunately, straight after that, was a business group celebration where everyone was thanked for the intense and difficult hard work they've been doing for the past six months. With wine or beer in one hand, and deep fried crayfish in the other, we were free to discuss the new chap's strategy. It's agreed that he had a lousy introduction, thrown in at the deep end, not introduced to anyone, just given a 20 minute induction and then told to get on with it. But it was also agreed that it's better to softly, softly, catchee monkey. At the moment, he's got no allies in the company, no respect from his peers, no time to spare from the business group directors and tentative hope, but resigned cynicism from the troops, who expect him to be a flash by night who will try to get the maximum credit at their expense and use them as a stepping stone to move on in a year or so.

So who'd be a Quality Manager, then?

  posted by Dovya R @ 6:47 PM : 

Friday, January 25, 2002  
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