Careers in Quality Assurance

The quality industry is changing.As the business world acknowledges that quality is as much about people as about processes, quality practitioners and their skills are becoming increasingly recognised and valued. Helen Stokes talks to four quality professionals about why they made quality their career of choice

Iwona Polowy
Quality specialist in the UK

Iwona Polowy

There used to be just a few subjects at university that I got very passionate about and quality management was one of them. I knew that the quickest way to learn about quality would be to meet people who work with it on a daily basis, so I set up a student’s organisation called ‘TQM’. We did our first research on implementing ISO standards among companies in south-west Poland. A professional body validated the research and we published the results at an event which attracted various organisations, media and quality professionals. Nevertheless, there were not many quality professionals in Poland in the late 1990s!

Before completion of my Master’s degree, I took a gap year and travelled to the UK for work, to polish my English but primarily to make my own observations on quality. My Master’s thesis concerned implementation of the British Retail Consortium standard based on a placement at a brewery company in London.

I then found out about the Institute of Quality Assurance (now the Chartered Quality Institute) by chance and began to work for them as training and education officer. The CQI has made a great impact on my life and had a large part to play in my decision to pursue a career in quality management. Through its staff and ongoing contact with its members, I have grown and developed as an individual and as a quality professional. I completed every possible CQI training course on offer and talked to delegates about their work and challenges during my time there. After two years, I decided to move on and put the knowledge I had gained into practice.

In 2006, I began work for a major oil and gas contractor, MW Kellogg, as a graduate quality, health, safety and environment engineer. It is a project-driven organisation with a mature integrated management system. I went through an accelerated training programme and learned about practical tools and techniques used to effectively implement management systems on a project, in accordance with ISO standards and contract requirements.

One of my most interesting tasks – which I enjoyed very much – was to revamp a quality induction.With a colleague and a team of graphic designers, we built a foundation for the behavioural quality programme. Initially, we interviewed people at all levels about their perception and experience of quality.

It became apparent to me that the role of quality has significantly evolved. It is no longer just about control, meeting our own standards; or about quality experts checking up on people. Listening to non-quality professionals talking about doing things right for our customers first time, every time made me feel proud and gave me a lot of personal satisfaction. For some of us, it was just the beginning of an ongoing journey that led us to embrace quality as personal value in the way we do our work; a journey that never ends.

A year later, in July 2007, I became a quality specialist and started to work on a multimillion pound Norwegian project. One of my most rewarding challenges was helping one of our overseas subcontractors who did not have experience with such large and complex engineering, procurement and construction projects.We needed to start from scratch and establish a management system fit for them and the project. For my next challenge, I would like to undertake an overseas assignment. Undoubtedly, in the oil and gas industry, there are plenty of opportunities to make it happen!

Certainly, quality isn’t free but I believe it is an investment that pays. Understanding and defining what exactly you need to do will save you time and a lot of money later on. However, even with this clear vision, unless you as a leader ‘walk the talk’ you will not get to where you want to be.

Roles in quality require excellent communication and interpersonal skills to allow you to smoothly interface with staff at all levels. You should also have sound planning skills and be able to simplify complexity. This together with a positive and flexible approach can help you make a real impact in working life.

If you are bold enough to stand out from the crowd and say how things are rather than how people would like them to be, then you should consider pursuing a career in quality management. It is a profession ideal for those who like to travel, meet people from all over the world, have an eye for detail and like to look at the ‘big picture’. If you are a person that is excited by a challenge and want to make a difference to the world, you are more than likely to succeed as a quality professional.

Aanas Ruhoumaully
Consultant and trainer in Mauritius

Aanas Ruhoumaully

Whenever I facilitate training sessions on quality management systems, I always speak lengthily on Deming’s plan-do-check-act cycle, with particular emphasis on the planning aspect, but I never planned to work in the quality field!

When I graduated as an environmental engineer from the University of Mauritius in 2001, I joined a training and consultancy company, Quensh Dynamics, as a trainer/consultant in environmental management.

Unfortunately, there was no queue of companies vying for ISO 14001. So, to keep me busy, I was plunged into the ocean of quality management systems. After accompanying a more experienced colleague for a couple of months, I was allowed to swim on my own and I was given my first company: a freight forwarding organisation.

The need to further my knowledge in quality swiftly became apparent. I was on the look-out for overseas universities, cursing the low value of our local currency which had caused the tuition fees of British and Australian universities to skyrocket, when the University of Mauritius launched its first ever Master’s in quality management. I secured a place and graduated, two years later, in 2005.

Quality is about understanding your customers’ requirements and satisfying them. If a customer wants ISO 9001 certification only for use as a marketing tool, there is one approach. If the customer wants certification for continual improvement, there is another. For the first, the basic minimum including the six mandatory procedures is required. For the second, identification, analysis and improvement of processes at all levels within the organisation takes place. It might sound cynical, but this philosophy has spared me from having to wrestle with many a ‘pig in the mud’.

Working in the quality field is like subscribing to a never-ending learning process. Early in 2007, the Ministry of Trade and Commerce in Mauritius issued a regulation requiring all third-party and medical laboratories to be accredited to ISO 17025 and ISO 15189 respectively, in order to continue their operations. So there I was assimilating the vocabulary of laboratory management, updating my mental dictionary with terms such as ‘interlaboratory comparison’, ‘proficiency testing’ and ‘validation of test methods’.

To be a good consultant, humility is the best policy. Always make it clear that you are not an expert in paint manufacturing or biscuit making, but in quality management systems. In fact, before someone tells you that she has a PhD in paint technology or he has 35 years’ experience in food processing and nothing to learn from you, tell him or her that you have nothing to teach him or her in her field.The trick is to get the right synergy between your quality knowledge and the expertise of the customer in his or her particular field.

Incidentally, I do not get job satisfaction solely from helping a high-profile organisation achieve certification or completing a project well ahead of schedule. I’ve always considered that clause 6.2 of ISO 9001 on human resources is far too elementary. It has been extremely gratifying whenever I have managed to convince senior management to integrate issues of employee welfare and human rights into their HR strategy. Indeed, I cannot envisage the future of management systems without corporate social responsibility – and I hope to be fully involved.

Emma Newman
International quality associate in the UK

Emma Newman

My degree, electronic marine navigation and marine law, introduced me to computers in the early 1990s. Leaving university with a first-class honours degree, but in a little-recognised subject, my career was limited towards computing-focused sectors. Luckily my local town had a fast-growing company developing a new technology – mobile phones – and required computer trainers.

Moving on to a global bespoke software company and training pharmaceutical sales forces in using software, it became common practice to ‘check’ software before training. This helped to load information and check that the software performed as expected during training. This was truly software testing to user specification in its earliest form!

Over time I moved to more formalised testing and away from training, as the two unique roles started to be recognised by the company and by the clients paying for the project. By the late 1990s I was focused full-time on quality planning and testing of bespoke software, progressing within the company to European quality manager.

I then moved to a contract manufacturing company of cosmetic and pharmaceutical goods as a quality manager with an ISO focus. I decided to take the CQI Diploma in Quality to gain formal recognition of my quality knowledge and move forward in my career. It helped me to move into my current role, where I work for a global pharmaceutical company. We operate internationally using contract manufacturers and packaging sites globally and I work as an international quality associate.

Studying for the diploma gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded professionals from other industries who challenged concepts and bad habits I had picked up ‘on the job’. The work for my diploma project also allowed management to see what worked and what didn’t. As a result I have brought new initiatives to existing processes which have reduced costs and I also provide inhouse training for quality initiatives.

My proudest moment in quality came after some time spent working with a group who considered quality assurance something best kept in the dark. They approached me for ideas on a proposal which they could not get approved via the company’s internal US quality assurance group. Being approached was a great feeling, but to then be able to provide a successful conclusion was even better. It proved my strongest belief that quality can help business be profitable and compliant by applying risk-based documentation.

Quality principles can apply to all sectors, but the critical message not fully understood by all sectors is that quality is not about identifying failures. When used pragmatically and with a sound risk-based approach, it can help business meet increasing regulations, but also improve profitability.

Quality covers all business sectors (both public and private) and is able to transverse all elements of the business. It is not solely about manufacturing or defects, but is much more about process improvement.

In every aspect of quality work there is the opportunity to not only be involved with different groups and learn new things but also to be able to bring tools and techniques to the business, positively contributing to a company’ success. I don’t know what the future holds, but working to integrate a quality management system with environmental standards, within a lean organisation would be thrilling!

Roy Green
Quality director in Canada

Roy Green

From my early days in London as a quality engineer, I have progressed through a series of fortuitous, interesting and sometimes unexpected situations to the present day as a quality director in Toronto, Canada.

My first job was in an electronics lab at ITT in the UK in 1966. It was a job which I disliked, so when I heard about a new quality engineering department, I volunteered immediately. On my first day, I suddenly ran outside and was violently sick (later to be diagnosed with stomach flu) and this gained me instant recognition.

I was also fortunate to learn quality methods first-hand since the (then) corporate VP of quality for ITT was the renowned quality guru Philip Crosby. In terms of professional recognition, I joined the Institute of Engineering Inspection in 1966 – today the CQI.

One of the key lessons I learned early on, was how to communicate the importance of quality. A machine operator making repetitive telephone exchange parts didn’t care about quality and just kept producing thousands of unusable pieces. I took him to a working telephone exchange, explained how his part functioned and showed him that if it wasn’t made perfectly, perhaps he wouldn’t be able to make that important emergency call. Next day the operator refused to operate his machine. He demanded a proper set up, regular samples, control charts – all of the things he had refused to allow before. He went on to become one of our best operators.

In 1970 I moved to GEC as a senior quality engineer. While compiling quality costs, I discovered that scrap costs exceeded profit for the division. I was offered a position as assistant controller, but I declined. I had no desire to leave the quality field (which I love) and enter the world of accounting. In addition at that time, increased taxes, inflation and a minimal raise made it difficult to earn an adequate take-home pay as an engineer in the UK, so I started to look further afield.

In 1971 I moved to Toronto, Canada and joined CGE to become involved in cost reduction and problem solving. Lack of ‘Canadian experience’ resulted in a lower salary which did not catch up as promised, so I moved to Northern Electric (later Nortel) and back into quality engineering.

I spent 15 years at Nortel in roles which varied across locations and functions from shopfloor and office to corporate HQ, and from hardware to software. One project involved investigating a production line with too many defects. I set up a limited design experiment, took samples and measurements and concluded that the design tolerances made it impossible for the assembly operators to do better. The union leader personally thanked me, saying it was the first time that his workers had not been blamed for poor quality.

Further, to everyone’s surprise (including my own), the product quality improved anyway and stayed in control, even though nothing changed. I attributed this to the well-known (and sometimes contested) Hawthorne effect – someone actually listened to the operators, so they themselves made it work because somebody cared!

This started me thinking about the effect of motivation on quality, which led to my ‘Quality Through People’ approach on which I lectured extensively. This began in the late 1970s, long before the people aspects of quality became generally accepted.

When Nortel downsized in the 1980s I started my own quality consulting and training business, but a recession later forced me to re-enter the corporate world, this time as quality manager for Norampac. A company merger resulted in my leaving to do more training and consulting until joining ITS Electronics, a growing electronics company, with customers such as Boeing and NASA, as quality manager. At my first attempt, and to my great delight, I achieved company certification to the tough AS 9100 aerospace standard.

In Canada I joined the American Society for Quality in 1972 and became programme chair of the Toronto Section. A rare privilege involved hosting a membership meeting with the legendary quality guru Dr Joseph Juran.

I also chaired the Toronto ASQ’s long-range planning committee, seeking to advance the cause of quality in Canada. A national quality award was proposed to the government and was praised in principle, but not acted upon as they felt industry should administer it. Then the newly-formed Canadian Advisory Council took up the cause, followed later by the National Quality Institute, which still administers the Canadian Awards for Excellence, including a category on quality.

As Toronto section chair, I was asked what ASQ was doing for the burgeoning discipline of software. Since the answer at the time was ‘not a lot’, I attended software quality conferences in the US and formed a software quality committee to share ideas.

There was no standard for software quality assurance and therefore we set about writing one. We naturally joined forces with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to form the CSA Technical Committee on software quality assurance, producing a series of Canadian national standards on software quality.

These ultimately were source documents for what evolved into ISO 9000-3 and subsequently the ISO/IEC 90003 standard on software quality assurance. I also became a member of the Canadian Advisory Committee on quality assurance and quality management, which provides Canadian inputs to ISO 9000.

So there you have it: a life in quality. Often interesting, sometimes surprising, occasionally frustrating, but never boring! I have made invaluable contacts and enjoyed networking, with many opportunities to learn and to contribute. It comes highly recommended and you never know where it might lead.

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