Dick Locke on “Training Supply Management Personnel on Quality Assurance Basics”

Well, I’m glad the Doc is publishing his material on cultural differences. I’ve promised a blog entry on international topics every two weeks, but I’ve been suffering from blogger’s block. I’m tired of debating whether China is manipulating currency or not. I’m sure the ‘cultural differences’ series will generate lots of comments. This gives me a chance to write something on a more general topic: training supply management personnel on quality assurance basics.

What brought this to my attention was a discussion over on Strategic Sourcing and Procurement’s discussion board. It struck me how many KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) referred to quality as a KPI. It also struck me that many of them were phrased in terms of “good enough” quality. A few got it. No one should see incoming material with any quality defects as “good enough”. Intermediate standards other than zero defects may be necessary steps on the road to perfection, but they should be improving annually, and the performance measurement should count all defects, not just abnormally high defect levels.

I wonder though, if quality is so important, why there is so little training on the topic in the various training and certification companies. ISM has a two hour course on basics, and a two day course on six-sigma. APICS seems to have nothing. Neither does Nahabit and Associates or Next Level Purchasing. That’s probably why HP resorted to an in house-developed training program when I worked there.

Our director of corporate procurement had his quality engineers write an eight hour training program that he attended with all his senior staff. It had almost no math in it, but relied on drawings and concepts. Lots of us were engineering undergrads and that helped. In my case it almost offset the 6AM start time that my morning-person boss insisted on. I even remember the basic take-aways. Here they are:

  1. You’ll never get better than about 1% defective if you rely on inspection. You need statistical process control to get better than that.
  2. AQL inspection plans have a very high probability (like 90%) that you will accept a lot with the specified defect level. Some entire industries still use AQLs. (Shame on them.) LTPD plans are better if you are using sample inspection.
  3. Never let your supplier use a sampling plan that allows a lot that had a defect in inspection to be shipped without 100% re-screening. (Jargon version: use c=0 plans.)
  4. Know what a control chart is and how to make one.
  5. Insist that your suppliers control chart key processes. That will define their process variation.
  6. Compare your specification limits to the suppliers process variation. If the supplier’s variation isn’t a whole lot less than your specification, you and the supplier are in trouble. The supplier is going to build scrap and some of it will find its way to you. This comparison is called Cp or CPk. Higher numbers are better.

OK, it’s not really that simple. But I wonder why training programs are so scarce? Are the quality wars over and quality won? It did in some countries and some industries but not others. What does your company do about training its procurement professionals?

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