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Quality Management: protecting the customer

by Chris Cooley

If a main business goal is “Satisfy the customer” then the first rule of quality management should be to protect the customer. This is clear but is often missed or not fully implemented as the business tries to extinguish the various quality fires.

stages of quality management stage 1

Responsibility of removing risk of poor quality to the customer

The responsibility of removing the risk of defects reaching the customer should be that of the Quality Dept. This does not mean they are responsible for all of the actions, but  as the first line of defence against customer dis-satisfaction caused by poor quality, they are the ones who have most to gain by protecting the customer.

This also means that they can start to focus their attention internally on permanently fixing the problems rather than explaining why, how and promising no more to the customer. There are a number of methods and tools to protect the customer whilst working on eradicating the issues for good.

Inspect out rejects

This can be in-line inspection or a special containment area, either way it is potentially an additional cost (but not necessarily – see more about this later) and should be viewed as a short-term measure by the business.

In-line inspection

  • Include as part of the standard
  • Have a clear quality specification (as visual as possible)
  • Include master samples and boundary samples as required
  • As part of Management control check the inspection work
  • Measure the results – have an exit plan based on a level of build-in quality that ensures no customer defects

Special containment area

  • Same rules as for In-line inspection; plus –
  • Separated from the main production area including a barrier
  • Clear feedback loop and problem solving process back to production to deal with issues ensuring manufacturing take responsibility
  • Ensure environment is suitable – well lit, well laid out and showing the highest standards of product handling and process

Incorporate quality checks into the process as standard

This should be part of your initial process design in the first place – but if it is not working, then now is an ideal time to review and rectify the in-line quality checks. Again, the key is that for the future you should not have to rely on these standard checks, they become a back-stop for unplanned variability in the process.

Review historical issues

Always a good starting point. reviewing past issues, especially for repeats, will help you with your temporary containment activities and also tell you where to prioritise going forward. To be able to do this successfully you need:

  • Good information systems – including a database showing issues, responsibility and counter-measures.
  • A support structure to be able to deal with issues raised – support from technical, quality engineering, manufacturing and IT.
  • A clear link to the issues and the temporary containment measures to ensure that temporary containment can be removed at the earliest opportunity.

The cost of temporary customer protection

Clearly, putting in place temporary customer protection has cost implications. This has to be compared to the cost of completely dis-satisfying the customer and potentially losing the customer. Be aware of the cost and ensure that there is a clear exit strategy for removing the temporary measures.

However, there does not have to be severe cost implications, if the quality management activities are also an integral part of the lean implementation then the big waste removed as part of the initial stages of lean will generate the resource to be able to put in place temporary measures. The purpose of lean is to increase throughput and generate the ability to sell more with the same resource. This spare resource can then be used to implement the temporary measures.

Please feel free to read more on the purpose of lean in by clicking this link:



  1. Recognise that a key to customer satisfaction is to protect the customer from poor quality thereby buying you time to fix the problems for good
  2. Recognise that these should be short-term measures and there should be an exit strategy
  3. Communicate the issues throughout the organisation and measure the results
  4. Make the customer aware that you are implementing practical but temporary measures to protect them
  5. Use lean implementation as an initial means of minimising the cost of the temporary measures

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