Posted BY: John Green

I used to work for a major defense contractor. We referred to our company as the best machine shop in the world. We could manufacture virtually any part, to even the most exacting tolerances. The company had even received numerous “Excellence” awards from the Navy for ingenuity, customer service, and workmanship.

And then in the 1990s, the company decided to try something different. Our president had a brainstorm — which is always scary coming from someone with a Harvard MBA and little manufacturing experience. He decided that we didn’t need quality control inspectors — those folks that check final parts to ensure compliance with the engineering specifications. He posited that our machinists were so good that they could check their own work. We could lay off the quality control inspectors and save a ton of money. They were redundant anyway — just checking the same things the machinists had already checked. Management proceeded with the plan — not bothering to implement any alternative system of accountability.

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As the machinists faced schedule and cost pressures, they got lax with their quality checks, but they continued to sign off on the required paperwork. Over the coming months, our quality slipped dramatically. We experienced a tsunami of complaints from the fleet. The spare parts didn’t fit. Products had obvious workmanship defects. The Navy was not happy, and began looking for other contractors to do business with.

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