A spark is a result of friction, occurring when two things forcefully come into contact with each other. A single spark has the potential to start a disastrous fire, but in a more figurative sense, it can also connote the potential for a beautiful relationship.
Sparks have long flown between quality and manufacturing departments, and the adversarial nature of their relationship is an accepted reality. But rarely does the discussion move beyond simply recognizing that a conflict exists. What is the cause of the divide? How can it be bridged? And what do companies stand to gain by doing so?
Every relationship faces conflict at some point, and that quality and manufacturing are at odds is a generally accepted notion. Whether due to longstanding organizational norms or simply the nature of the roles themselves, it’s a relationship ripe for conflict and friction, and that’s exactly how it has played out for many years. As outlined below, several factors exacerbate the disconnect that exists between quality and manufacturing, but recent advances in digital technology along with shifting industry mindsets are making true conflict resolution between the teams more achievable than ever.
Conflict: Speaking Different Languages
Quality and manufacturing often clash because of their differing approaches, priorities and key performance indicators (KPIs). Typical reporting structures make matters worse, with well-established and commonly accepted industry rules of engagement dictating that quality, in fact, mustn’t report to operations in order to avoid supposed conflicts of interest and to maintain focus on their respective priorities. Simply put, despite each team having valid and critical points of view, they speak very different languages and their attempts at communication – when they happen – tend to get lost in translation.
Resolution: Find a Neutral Mediator
When teams speak different languages, misunderstandings are unavoidable and critical information is bound to get lost in translation. A fully digitized and integrated solution that consolidates data from disparate enterprise systems can reduce the tension and open the lines of communication between quality and manufacturing. According to a recent MasterControl executive brief, digitizing production records, for example, would simultaneously improve operational performance, product quality and employee satisfaction by removing the element of human error and allowing production and quality teams to unite in meeting key operational metrics. By interpreting the information being relayed from each side and making it highly accessible to each respective discipline in an easily understood and consumable format, this type of solution acts as a neutral mediator that can help teams see eye to eye.
Conflict: Clashing Priorities
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Checks and balances serve an important purpose, but can often be seen as roadblocks to achieving the objective at hand. In most companies, quality represents/provides/is that check and balance. And because it is typically only able to inspect product and its associated documentation after it has come off the line, the quality function with its enforcing presence is viewed by manufacturing as a foe rather than a friend. On the other hand, when manufacturing feels forced to ship product before it has been released by quality in order to meet shipping deadlines, the quality team can feel undermined and like it’s been thrown under the bus. This adversarial pattern of behavior has become a defining characteristic of the relationship between quality and manufacturing, much to the detriment of both teams and the collective business.
Resolution: Establish a Common Goal
Manufacturing is a company’s key revenue driver. Above all else, manufacturing teams prioritize producing goods on time and to spec. The quality discipline delivers an equally critical, yet very different function in regulated manufacturing environments. It serves as the company’s champion of internal quality programs and regulatory requirements that must be followed in order to remain viable. It’s also a critical safety net in the event of adverse events, recalls or other post-market issues that may arise. Many companies are even beginning to change their view of quality from being a cost center to a source of competitive differentiation. But for all of their differences, it’s important to remember that quality and manufacturing share the same core objective – getting high-quality and compliant product to customers on time. When each side acknowledges the value and expertise of the other in the pursuit of this common goal, the teams can meet in the middle and are better able to find innovative and mutually beneficial solutions to challenges both new and old.
At the corporate level, this can be facilitated by implementing and enforcing culture of quality initiatives that assign ownership of quality throughout every area of the business, from point of sale to order fulfillment. Similarly, quality at the source – a lean principle that says quality output cannot only be measured after product comes off the line but rather at each step of the production process – assigns responsibility to each worker involved in the production process to ensure quality, invoking a proactive mindset of error prevention rather than correction.
Conflict: Keeping Secrets
Whether or not companies have digital systems in place, data can still be obscured from the teams that need or could benefit from it. LNS Research reported in its Quality 4.0 e-book that of companies that have invested in EQMS technology, only 16% have connected it to their manufacturing operations. It also reported that 37% of companies cite fragmented data sources and systems as a top challenge in achieving quality objectives. Similarly, Gartner(1) found that 70% of shop floor data went unused as reported by process and discrete manufacturers in an annual survey, with much of the problem attributed to data being inaccessible in paper documentation or trapped in shop floor machinery. If systems and data between departments are disconnected, by extension, those teams and personnel are likely to be disconnected also. Communication and the free flow of information are key to any healthy relationship, and when it is impeded in this way, teams end up drifting apart.
Resolution: Open the Lines of Communication
A digital solution that connects quality and manufacturing increases visibility and accessibility of the metrics and data that matter to the collective business. But implementing reporting relationships that bring quality into the production process sooner is perhaps the most effective approach to creating an open and transparent relationship. The data generated by both quality and manufacturing is dynamic and nuanced. Appointing key personnel from both departments to participate in formal feedback loops ensures the right information is delivered to the right person at the right time – and with the proper context and clarification to leverage it properly.
In manufacturing environments and elsewhere, digital technology is proving to be the great equalizer that can break down barriers between processes, teams, data and systems across the entire business. As production operations continue their transition to digital, the burden of performing manual, repetitive and less meaningful tasks – or correcting the errors of those performed by others – is being lifted from human workers, freeing them to engage in more meaningful and innovative work that can only be accomplished when people come together. And while conflict is inevitable in any relationship, friction and differences can also lead to some of the best ideas. The key is harnessing that energy to spark innovation and positive change instead of letting it fuel unnecessary fires.