The Case of the Quality Crusader
Segal Electric says it cares about quality. So why does it ship defective fans ?
by FRANK S. LEONARD (Harvard Business Review, May-June 1988)
George Mansfield poured himself another cup Following quality procedures Gene red-tagged
of coffee and walked down the hall to Pete them and put them aside for rework, but then
Jameson's office. He'd spent half the night Sharon Morse got involved. She decided it would
agonizing over how to broach a problem with take too long to fix the fans, so she plugged the
Pete, the general manager who had hired him a darn things in and ran them full speed to burn the
month ago to run Segal Electric's quality washers down to the right clearance. Now, you
operation as director of quality assurance. and I both know that doing that pushes the spec
George had always thought that anything worth strength of those washers. »
making was worth making right. That's one « Well, in theory, yes. But I don't know-how
reason he advocated generous warranty much difference it really, makes. Still, I get your
programs. He knew that if operations were point, George. That’s not the way it ought to be. »
running as they should, the company wouldn’t « No sir, as far as I’m concerned it isn’t. I guess
have to worry about warranty costs because Gene tried to talk too Sharon about it. He knows
there wouldn’t be any. His high standards had how I feel about quality and he was trying to do
served him well at his last job, where he was what I would expect. But Sharon took charge of
perceived as a real comer and had been the situation. As production superintendent she
promoted several times. outranks Gene, and he finally deferred to her.
Segal was once the top manufacturer of Well, don't you know, the fans were shipped last
high-quality electrical products, but for a Thursday. »
combination of reasons its reputation had fallen « Have you discussed this with Sharon? » Pete
steadily over the last few years. George asked.
welcomed the chance to help turn the company « No I haven't. Gene just told me about it
around. The hefty salary and direct reporting yesterday. I'm perfectly willing to talk to her, but
relationship to Pete Jameson had persuaded him I want to make sure I’m right first. Doesn’t my
that Segal was serious about regaining its department have the last word about what, gets
position in the market. George was given much out the door ? »
of the responsibility to help reach that goal. « George, we’re like every other company.
« Come on in, George, and have a seat » , Pete We’ve got production quotas, we’ve got budgets,
began. « So you’ve run into some trouble in the we’ve got marketing plans. Sure, we want to
plant already I told you this job would be tough. make a good product, but we don't want to lose
What’s the problem? » our shirts doing it. Sounds to me like you and
« There was a mix-up in the plant while I was Sharon will have to work it out. I think you can
gone last week. I think it might happen again, so handle it. »
I want to discuss it with you now. » George was disappointed by Pete's response.
« Of course, go ahead. » After all in the job interview Pete assured him
« Last week when I was at that quality seminar that Segal was serious about the renewed
in Milwaukee, Gene. Davis was overseeing the emphasis on quality. But it didn’t seem as if the
quality control team for me. Early in the week, idea had filtered down to the factory floor-where
they kept running into trouble with the 5051 priorities are really set.
fans. The end play of the fan blades on the shaft The people in the plant were very loyal to Sharon.
wasn’t right. They had too reject five pallets of According to Gene Davis they had often helped
fans. her patch up rejected products and rush them onto
Apparently there was a big rush order, so some the shipping dock to help make quotas. George
people were pulled off other lines to assemble was anxious to confront her. Later that day when
the fans But nobody told them all the spec So he saw her on the plant floor he made a point of
they were loading up as many thrust washers as starting a conversation. He didn’t want to come
they could fit on the shaft, and instead of getting on too strong, but he wanted to let her know he
ten-thousandths clearance, they got zero. There wasn’t happy about what had happened last week
was no end play at all. and that he didn't want it to happen again.
« Say, how did things go when I was gone? » he is? We're lucky if we have one person who knows
asked. how to do the job. But you know, sometimes the
« It was touch and go for a while there, but we problem is with the parts we get - not so much the
managed to fill a couple of big, important ones we get from our shop but the ones we get
orders. » through purchasing. I don't know whether they’re
« I understand you were short of assemblers. » mixing up part numbers or what, but those
« We’re always short of assemblers. But you’re washers aren’t all the same »
right. Last week absenteeism was especially « What makes you say that? »
high, and we had to do a lot of juggling to meet « When you put them on the fan shaft, you can’t
our quotas. You know about the special tell. One fan has five washers and
promotions? » twenty-thousandths clearance. Another fan has
« I've heard of something, but no details. » five washers and five-thousandths clearance. If
« Sales is running a special seasonal promotion you ask me, they’re getting the cheapest washers
for both trade and retail. It's in response to a new they can find. »
product that some competitor is coming out « Of course, it it’s just a slight variation, the
with. We’re trying to preempt that market assemblers can adjust for it when they’re putting
share. » the fan together », George conceded.
« Gene tells me we ran into some trouble with « Are you kidding? We can't pull out a
the 5051s. » micrometer every time we throw a few thrust
« Yes, sales was leaning all over us for them. washers onto a shaft. We’d newer get our orders
All I kept hearing all week was 'Delivery ! out. The bill of material and assembly specs for a
Delivery!’ » 5051 fan call for five thrust washers, so that's
« But some of the products were rejected. » what we use. Every once in a while a worker
« Well, the thrust washers were tight. But you forgets that. Like last week, when we were in
know, if you run them tight for a little while, it such a rush. Some of the people hadn’t worked on
frees them up just the right amount. You should that line for months' so they were putting on five,
have seen this place with all those fans running. six, seven of them-however many they could fit
It was quite a sight. » on the shaft. But normally it’s five washers. Look
« But doesn't running them tight like that burn George, if you want to measure those washers, I'd
the washers and stress the metal? » be real happy. I’m all for anything that will help
« Well, I'm not so sure about that. » me meet my objectives. »
George was annoyed by Sharon's skepticism, « I'm not interested in measuring washers, but we
especially since he felt sure of himself on should be checking that clearance before the fans
technical matters. After all, he had been trained get to final test. It would take just one second to
as an engineer. Sharon had started as a make the adjustment during assembly and you
production worker and come up through the know how long it takes to pull the thing apart and
ranks. Despite the fact that George had been at remake it. »
Segal for only a month, he was sure Sharon « It's not that I don't have a mind of my own, but I
didn't understand the product as well as he did. follow the process orders that come from
« I don't want to make a big deal of something engineering. That’s my job. I’m not going to
that's already happened, but it's not such a good arbitrarily change the procedure. Besides, five
idea to burn the washers into spec. We should washers is usually right, so there’s really not a
be putting the product together correctly in the problem. Do you know we ship 95% of our
first place. » orders on time. We’re pretty proud of that record.
« Oh boy, you won't get any disagreement from Sales tells me that it’s our delivery performance
me there. I had some people who started work that gets us business. I don’t want to mess with
on Monday and were on their own assembling that.
parts that afternoon. I barely had time to show The conversation with Sharon ended on a friendly
them where to hang their coats. » note, but George. knew he hadn’t won her over.
« Don't new employees get any training ? At my He walked back to his office to decide what to do
old company everyone was cross-trained so they next.
could do at least a couple of different tasks. That
way, people could be moved from one job to
« Do you know how big our training
department is? Do you know what our turnover