I have been building a large cactus garden in the backyard. I thought I was almost done until the 10 tons of screened crushed white marble to be used as a decorative floor in the garden was delivered. The problem was not the quantity of rock – it was the quality… too many fines and rocks of varying sizes. I called the rock company (the retailer) about the inconsistency and was told that 1) they accept every shipment they get from their supplier and 2) I should have checked their inventory in the back before placing the order, even though they have samples near the office door in the front that supposedly shows what the product looks like. The rock could not be returned, so they took some money off my order. A two-day job became a 2-week job because they pushed their quality issue to me. I cannot use the rock “as is” because of the fines. The fines will prevent the water from getting to the plants, so I am manually screening them out with rakes, shovels and tarps before I place the good rock in the garden.

While doing this work, I thought about customer service, control points and standards. I also thought about the management perspectives that are ultimately responsible for my problem. Here’s what I mean by that:

1) The retailer needed standards that were firmly established with suppliers, a process for insuring that the product they accepted matched the samples they showed the public, and a process for rejecting a load if it did not meet their standards. But… without a change in perspective about who owned the problem, these process changes would not be enforced.
2) The marble supplier obviously had screens that needed to be repaired and had blasting inconsistencies. Process improvement work would have focused on the screens and blasting practices, but without a change in management’s perspective about shipping a consistent product, neither process change would have been sustainable.

Do you work with departments that “push” problems downstream? Has the “rehandle” downstream been accepted as “just the way we work here”? Have you even staffed for it? When I find departments who think it’s OK to push a problem downstream, I know that managers in the level above that department believe it’s OK too. Process improvements can be designed to stop the “push”, but if management layers above do not change what they believe about this issue, the process changes will not be sustained. The internal cost of this kind of rehandle is seldom measured, but is significant because it “sucks” resources away from value-added work and adds unmeasured dollars to the cost of the final product.

Management perspectives, not equipment or systems, are ultimately responsible for the quality of a product or service.