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Allan Sayle's Comment

Column 8: 07 February 2006.

Destructively testing quality’s services

Quality folk working in manufacturing industry know well that products need to be subjected to destructive testing at different times to determine or confirm what are their limits of endurance. What is the maximum performance one can expect from the materials, sub-assemblies etc. incorporated into the deliverable product? The products’ designers and firm’s managers learn much from the results of destructive testing which provides essential input for deciding the future and prospects for the associated product.

Just as specimens of tangible products should be destructively tested, for the experience gained thereby, services, too, need assessing. Since “quality” is a service to the organization, can such testing also apply to it? And, if so, who shall be the tester? Who will issue that crucial report upon which others will decide whether or not quality’s services are fit for purpose? Answers: your market place of employers, managers, process owners and clients.

It is all very well to speak nobly of the ideals and benefits of “quality”. That is something the so-called professional bodies constantly do while as individual organizations they actually do little to build the real reputation of the profession. Claims must be proved, as was noted in Column 4, Credibility, trust and quality, and the onerous duty of doing that rests with each of us as individuals, not those bodies. Metallurgists, scientists and engineers know destructive testing is aimed at verifying whether or not the test specimen meets a predefined standard for performance. Services can be defined and then assessed to see if they meet their definition.

For my personal, professional needs, I defined “service” years ago as being, “Work performed for someone else in a manner that tends to the welfare or advantage of that person,” and reproduced it in Management Audits, 2nd edition in 1987. (It is also to be found in my subsequent writings such as the 3rd edition of Management Audits Ref 1. available from Amazon.) Indeed, a “service” can be broken down into sub-elements, as shown in that book.

The first part: “work performed for someone else,” reminds us the recipient has a choice. Some may elect to perform the work themselves, making the service provider unemployed. That choice might occur if the level of performance fails to meet the recipient’s expectations.

The second part, “in a manner that tends to the welfare or advantage of that person” indicates how the recipient will judge the service. The service provider must carefully determine what the recipient considers as being to her welfare. Matters such as safety, comfort, convenience, security or reduced stress levels could be included. Indeed, one might view fundamental “welfare” concerns as being those at the base of Abram Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What the recipient might regard as being of “advantage” might include, reduced costs, time saved, career promotional opportunities, improved personal capabilities, monetary gain over some defined period of time, greater leisure or discretionary time becoming available.

Translating some of those points into managers’ concerns we might see management welfare as being improved process and environmental safety, better security practices, fewer process problems (headaches!) And, advantages being reduced avoidable costs, greater process efficiency and productivity, increased departmental performance reflecting well on the manager and increasing her prospects for career advancement and less time spent after hours dealing with quality problems, enabling the manager to be with her family. All of that reduces to the old expression: find out what are your customer’s needs and expectations. And they will vary from person to person as will being anointed as being “useful” or “helpful”.

Pause for thought for a moment and reflect on how and from where did your quality department’s duties come? A broad-brush requirement such as maintaining that piece of paper on the wall is obvious as is, say, running the test lab or issuing a monthly scorecard. It probably came from senior management. The “manner” in which we execute assigned duties (services) requires that we attend also to the individual needs of those affected by them, especially at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy. Each individual is different and a disaffected person can do much damage to our standing in the organization. In turn, each disaffected organization can do much to damage our profession’s standing in business as a whole: top executives exchange their experiences and create a climate of opinion and reputation.

One of the finest examples of that in recent years was Lawrence Bossidy of Honeywell advising his old friend and colleague, Dr. John F. (Jack) Welch of General Electric, that he considered six sigma as being a useful tool: the rest is history. But, as Dr. Welch states in his memoir, “For years as colleagues neither of us had been fans of the quality movement. We both felt that the earlier quality programs were too heavy on slogans and light on results. In the early 1990s, we flirted with a Deming program…I didn’t buy it as a companywide initiative because I thought it was too theoretical.” Ref. 2.

In the quality profession, we spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of our services at the organizational level. But, in practice as individual members of that profession, we should concentrate on serving better our immediate clients: individual managers and process owners. Doing that well creates our best advocates. Failing to do that destructively tests quality’s services. The test specimen is not a sample: it is our delivered service.


1. Sayle. Allan J., Management Audits, 3rd edition, ISBN 0-9511739-0-1.

2. Jack Welch with John A. Byrne, Jack – Straight from the gut, 2001, ISBN 0-446-52838-2, page 328.

© 2006 Allan Sayle Associates. All rights reserved.

Web: www.sayle.com
Email: Publish@SaferPak.com



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