How Effective Are Multiple Quality Checks

Anyone, who has travelled through any airport in India, would have noticed a strange obsession. The baggage tag on carry on baggage is checked multiple times by different persons – at the end of the security check, at the boarding gate, at the stairs of the aircraft. I always wondered what purpose did so many checks serve (apart from some disguised employment generation).

World over, many industrial organisations have had such multiple levels of quality checking. But then it was realized that this did not result in better quality. On the other hand, it diluted the responsibility of every quality checker, who assumed that even if he did not do a thorough job, someone else would detect the defect. Ironically, in many organisations, this attitude resulted in a larger number of defective parts going undetected (besides adding to the cost due to extra manpower).

My Consulting Experience with an Indian Organisation

I was consulting with a leading Indian tyre company on their organisation structure, workflow and human resource strategies. In this connection, I visited their plant to observe various tasks and processes.

After finishing manufacturing processes, each tyre was subjected to a final Quality checking by a dedicated team. But I was surprised to see that in between this final Quality check and finished goods warehouse, there was another Quality check team which again checked each tyre.

I asked the General Manager of the plant about the rationale for this practice.  He replied, ” we want to be absolutely sure about the quality of each tyre.” 

My next question was, “If you get a customer complaint about a defective tyre, which of the two teams will be held responsible”. He could not give a satisfactory answer to this.

Later, after the completion of the study, I made a presentation of my findings and draft recommendations to the whole top management team including the Chairman, MD and the General Manager of the Plant. During this presentation, I flagged this dual quality checking also, and why it seemed redundant. To illustrate my point better, I narrated a small story to them (with a disclaimer that it was completely a work of fiction and any resemblance to any living person or company was only coincidental).

The Story      

During the Middle East disturbances, a regiment of US army was stationed somewhere in a deserted place in Iraq. As per the SOPs, teams from Surgeon General’s office visited various army locations to monitor health safety standards. The conversation between the Commanding Officer (CO) and Surgeon General team leader (SG) who came for inspection, went like this:

SG: Mr. Commander, how do you ensure that the water used by you is free from harmful bacteria and other impurities?

CO:  We have located a large source of water nearby from which we draw our water. We have got samples of the water tested in a laboratory to ensure that it is potable.

SG:  But how are you sure that the laboratory or its results are reliable?

CO:  Good point. We had also thought of that possibility, and hence we treat all our water with Potassium Permanganate before use.

SG: But how can you be sure of the quality of Potassium Permanganate you use?

CO: Again, an incredibly good observation. We had also thought of that possibility and hence we boil all our water before use.

SG: But how are you sure that you have boiled it enough to make it safe?

By this time, CO was about to lose his cool. But he checked himself and replied in a calm voice: Yes, we had also thought of that possibility. Therefore, we drink only beer and use the water for washing purposes only.

The lesson went home effectively. The Chairman gave a hearty laugh and ordered to discontinue the double quality check.

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