Quality assurance (QA) is an integral part of any business, whether you produce a product or deliver a service. It’s all about ensuring the end result meets and exceeds customer expectations. To do that, QA executives need to structure their value streams to exude quality, from the incoming materials to the outgoing products. Unfortunately, this is getting more and more difficult to do as supply chains and value streams become fragmented.
Tracking quality through the value stream
You source raw materials from Egypt. You have factories in Vietnam. Your fulfillment partners warehouse in Canada. Your consumers live in the United States. How can you track quality across the value stream?
It may sound like a word problem you find on your fifth-grader’s homework, but it’s actually a very real, very difficult prospect for quality assurance managers today. With each fragmented segment of the value stream comes a new link in the chain of custody. As you seek to source, create and deliver quality throughout, each link becomes a potential pitfall that detracts from that quality.
What happens if the manufacturer in Vietnam produces a bad batch or the warehouser in Canada mishandles product? When it reaches the hands of customers, they’re not going to care what happened or where—all they’re going to care about is the lackluster result they’re experiencing. They’ll place blame on the brand, not the value stream.
QA executives need total value stream visibility
The role of a quality assurance executive is becoming one of value stream management. This differs from supply chain management in that it’s less about logistics and more about the efficacy of those logistics. Is product progressing through the value stream in a way that imbues and retains quality? If not, where does the problem lie and how can you fix it?
QA executives need to build a framework for quality with consideration to both up- and down-stream checks. To do this takes a clear understanding of the variables that affect quality at each stage in the chain of custody:
- Upstream variables include material quality, supplier reliability, supply chain resilience, supply chain visibility, vendor transparency and more.
- Downstream variables include manufacturing QA processes, materials handling, warehousing and transport, customer service and more.
Another way: upstream variables dictate the level of quality that goes into the production of goods, while downstream variables assure the quality of the goods up to the point of purchase by customers—and sometimes even beyond. QA executives are charged with bringing cohesion to this entire process, to prevent loss of quality throughout.
Demand for quality is higher than ever
There’s a reason more and more companies have added titles like VP of Quality or Global Quality Director to their C-suite. Demand for quality is higher than ever, and increasingly, tied to the success of companies.
Consumers aren’t just cost-conscious these days—they’re quality-driven. They’re willing to pay more for quality goods, with the expectation that these goods will last. Failing to meet customer expectations means losing their trust, which puts businesses on the wrong side of a growing shift to brand loyalty that’s rooted in quality. This is especially true for sectors such as discretionary consumer goods, where customer purchases are driven by choice.
Companies with the ability to produce quality goods stand to succeed in a marketplace that’s growing increasingly more competitive from a globalization standpoint.
How to institute a framework for quality
Assuming the design of a product is sound, the expectation of quality falls to the process behind producing it. Quality assurance executives need to take a top-down view of the entire value stream to uncover where opportunities exist to improve quality—and where to avoid detractive pitfalls.
Do you need to find a new supplier that’s capable of sourcing a higher caliber raw material? Does your warehousing partner need upskilling and re-training to acclimate them with best-practices when handling your product? Exploring value stream improvements means looking both up- and down-stream, to create and optimize quality assurance checkpoints. If there’s a loss of quality anywhere in the chain of custody, it needs to be easy to identify and remedy.
With more complex value streams comes a smaller margin for error when it comes to quality. Companies big and small have turned to quality assurance executives to guide them toward a value stream that’s more cohesive and transparent—free of quality issues and detractors. It’s a must-fill position for any producer diligently competing on a platform of quality goods (and services).