by Naomi B. Whitehead
Not too long ago, during an audit, someone asked me what I did besides audit. I told this person I did, “Whatever the organization wants me to do, and I am whoever they want me to be.” I wasn’t being witty or sarcastic or arrogant. I was completely honest. I learned a long time ago that if I want to learn more and be more valuable to my employer, I have to initiate these actions myself and not wait for someone else to provide the resources. If I wanted to continue to be a valuable asset, I needed to continually re-invent myself to offer the resources my company needs through changing times.
I entered the quality arena knowing basically nothing about quality and learned from those around. Eventually, however, I discovered that I was living on an island. If I didn’t broaden my horizons, my skill set and knowledge base would be very limited. Because I love my profession, I decided to become a professional at it. Because I wasn’t an expert at any one thing, there was nothing to stop me from attempting to learn everything about quality—systems, production processes, test-and-inspection protocols, auditing, etc. The more I learned, the more I knew I hadn’t even scratched the surface.
Technology is another reason to stay alert. Just when you become comfortable with a computer or software program, someone invents an upgrade and you need to re-learn the sequence and shortcuts all over again. If you don’t keep up, you may get left behind.
There is so much information available today. It can be found on the Internet through regulatory or quality websites, on-line training, teleconferences, mentoring, tutorials, local organizations, books, articles, etc. Read, watch, learn, and develop your skills constantly.
Hands on instruction can be very exciting, especially if you are responsible for writing or developing work instructions or flowcharts. Being a part of the production and/or administrative process through participation is not only educational but it’s also very rewarding. You get a chance to interact with the operators and associates performing the process activities, experience “what if” scenarios, and witness how supporting inputs and outputs affect the natural flow of events.
Introducing yourself to new quality concepts or learning a different skill set isn’t unlike starting a physical fitness routine. Have you ever gone on a diet? Was it successful or a failure? How did you measure your milestones? Did you plan this program or did you just stop eating and start running? Did you stick with it or did you quit because it was too hard with little to no personal satisfaction?
Quality fitness 101
When you decide to begin a physical fitness program there are various factors you must determine:
- What is your current fitness level and where do you want to be by a specified time frame?
- How many hours a day are you capable or willing to commit to getting in shape?
- What is your level of flexibility? Are you willing to explore areas outside your comfort zone?
- Are you willing to change your eating habits, try new recipes, and educate your palate?
A quality fitness plan is not much different. Start at the beginning and make a plan.
A great way to determine your current fitness level is to conduct a self-assessment of your quality credentials and expertise. First, create a realistic job description of all the value-added quality activities you currently perform on a consistent basis.
Next, create or update your résumé. List your credentials, such as bachelor’s or master’s degree. Do you hold professional certifications, such as a certified quality auditor (CQA), certified quality manager (CQM), or a certified quality engineer (CQE)? Have earned a Six Sigma Green or Black Belt? Are you a member of a professional organization? Write all of this down in a column titled “Baseline” or “Current Status.”
To get somewhere you have to know where you want to go. What are your dreams, goals, and ambitions? A physical fitness plan will include goals such as lifting increasingly heavy weights or completing additional repetitions, running or walking more miles, reducing fat, and increasing muscle tone.
What are the goals for your personal quality fitness plan? Do you want to beef up your problem-solving tool bag, be a better facilitator, enhance your objective or observational auditing skills, be a leader in the visual management field, achieve certification, or is it something else? Whatever you decide your goals are, write them down in another column titled “Goals,” “Where I Want To Be,” or “Future Status.” You will measure your progress to these goals periodically.
Now that you know where you are and where you want to be, how will you get there? Create a chart that describes the output (goals) and the input needed to achieve those goals (resources, time, etc.).
Let’s go back to our physical fitness plan. If the goal is to:
- Increase stamina.
- Increase overall flexibility.
- Reduce body fat.
- Increase muscle tone.
The inputs may be:
- Time allowed for power walking, strength training, yoga, cooking
- Money budgeted for walking shoes, weights, a yoga mat, exercise clothes, and high-quality groceries
- A new cookbook with low fat, high-energy meals
The measurable output will be a leaner, more toned, more flexible you. Obviously, the more detailed your plan, the greater your measurable results will be, such as specific lost pounds per week or percent of increased muscle.
So how does this relate to a quality fitness plan? Like everything else in life, it’s a process.
Sometimes the hardest part of any program is keeping it simple and structured. Take a look at all the goals you identified and prioritize them in a variety of ways. List each goal from most important to least important, highest cost to lowest cost, highest time commitment to shortest time commitment, easiest to achieve to hardest to achieve, etc.
You will end up with lists of goals categorized by the most important, lowest cost, shortest time, easiest to achieve to the least important, highest cost, most time and hardest to achieve. Now you can prioritize the specific goals you want to achieve in a time frame that will provide the most value for you.
If the goal is to become certified and you allow one year to study and prepare for the exam, you may want to pair this up with a short-term goal such as developing broader auditing skills (process and system) or acquiring writing skills in different formats. There are no limits, no rules. As that famous shoe company says—Just do it!
Last, but certainly not least, approximate realistic completion dates for your goals. Record them in a column named “Target Dates.”
Monitor your progress
Periodically review your goals and objectives no matter what your goal is. How is your progress? Are you where you expected to be? Are you progressing ahead of schedule or behind? Re-evaluate your timeline if you need to.
In today’s ever-changing technology and challenging economy re-invention has become part of normal behavior. In the quality profession, it’s no longer sufficient to be good at only one activity. We must embrace the future and be familiar and proficient in a variety of skills so we can continue to lead by example and be of value to our organizations.
About the author
Naomi B. Whitehead is a regional quality manager for Carl Zeiss Vision.