06: Improving Collaboration in a QC Organization

The quality control division of an aerospace organization was responsible for oversight of ground processing operations performed by other organizations (usually contractors). The two core groups of employees in this organization were quality control technicians and quality assurance engineers. The technicians directly monitored, measured, and assessed contractor-performed work processes. The engineers performed analyses of the impacts of process deviations as well as the solutions needed to return work to normal parameters. The division operated similarly to other technical organizations, complete with defined work processes, support functions, and numerous reports and meetings. The basic unit of work for the group was an incident report (a case file for each control deviation).

As the organization grew and assumed quality control responsibility for more processing operations, managers noticed that the average time to close incident reports was increasing. A review of the core incident management process confirmed that the front-end activities (performed by QC technicians) flowed, according to the initial design, to the back-end activities where technical assessments of causal factors, impacts, and solutions were performed by QA engineers. In other words, the process seemed to be working as intended. So, what was causing the delays? An analysis of work-related communication patterns (using social network analysis) and confidential interviews conducted with technicians and engineers provided some insight into important group dynamics. It was discovered that the majority of communication occurred most frequently within the two groups and not between them. The critical cross-team communication that was assumed would supplement the incident process was not taking place. Differences in academic and professional training (reflected in a number of ways throughout the organization) led to a type of class distinction (technician vs engineer) that ultimately constrained inter-group communication. In short, each team simply relied on the incident file as the bridge between groups.

The solution to this problem consisted of several changes. First, to immediately work toward reducing the time incident files were open (communication patterns take time to develop), liaison responsibilities were added to existing positions within each team. The primary goal here was to force the joint review of all open incident files on a recurring basis. The second correction was to change the process to ensure a QA engineer and QC technician were assigned to and had responsibility for each incident.

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