Angels and Devils

I recently happened across this interesting article from Quality Digest magazine. The gist of the article that I took away is that we find mentors and anti-mentors wherever we go and it got me to thinking (like you knew it would… and I think I may have to contemplate a better descriptor than ‘anti-mentor’)

Some of the best Quality mentors I’ve had haven’t been in “Quality” per se. Sam is a brash man that I hired a few years ago. He had been Special Forces so I kind of just accepted his ego as part of him. 🙂 He hated stupid people and often engineers. He would complain about people who couldn’t think their way out of a wet bag or manage to use the drive-thru “correctly.” He once told me about working at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds as a jumper. He was handed a piece of expensive hardware to test jumping out of the plane. He promptly dropped it which caused all the engineers to panic, asking him, “Do you realize how expensive that is?” He didn’t bat an eye but rather asked them, “do you know how much shock this is going to receive when I jump out of an airplane with it?” They backed off and he conducted the tests as asked. Lesson learned that it’s important to ask the end user how the new product will be used.
I hired him because the man could build craft anything. Even if he was only given a doodle on a napkin. He’d roll his eyes when he saw me coming but he and I both knew we wanted something good to come out of our project. And I think that matters. When both parties know that the goal is to make a good product, you both give the other a little slack. We may egg each other on but we know, know that we are all professionals attempting to put Quality into our products. Our processes are designed to help us communicate with each other and sometimes we get so caught up in the documentation that we forget what we’re trying to communicate.
For example, together we once saved the company we worked for something in the 6 figures because we were able to “fab” a device to test a small component that was thought to be malfunctioning. Using a video camera that was on hand, we were able to demonstrate the part’s reliability, under a variety of attitudes, to the customer using $40 worth of scavenged parts and a metal desk protractor. The customer was happy that we ruled out (no pun intended) the part as a source of the defect, the CEO was happy for the continuing good will from the customer, and the FO was happy she didn’t need to write a huge check. And the team was happy because we now had a cool story to tell. 🙂
Nowadays, Sam is retired but I still look up to him. Quality is where you put it.