Integrating Quality and Reliability Engineering Earlier in New Designs

I hear many Quality and Reliability Engineering professionals make this complaint: My company doesn’t integrate Quality and Reliability Engineering early enough into its design and development process. A broad stroke of change to management methods is romantic to envision, but unlikely. And the hurdles to force a systemic change are sometimes too large to imagine getting over.

An individual can introduce and cultivate a culture shift where Quality and Reliability Engineering are integral to new designs. We can do this by being proactive and acting as our own champions.

We must first think of ourselves as service-providers. We are, ultimately, the independent voice of the end-customers of the products our companies make. But the technical managers and design engineers can also be our customers with our goal to help them succeed at creating a robust, effective, quality design.

We cannot wait for an invitation to join the design party. We need to invite ourselves – nicely. Technical managers and design engineers tend to keep things quiet during the early design phases. They want the freedom to design without judgement. They do not want to present design prototypes that are not successful. They don’t feel that spending the overhead on other departments is worth it or value-added at the early phases of development. Or they’re cautious that other people will make things complicated and cumbersome. It’s almost viewed as a personal space, a “me time” with new design ideas.

Even though it’s a quiet phase, this early design phase is where we need to start listening. We’ll likely not offer solutions, yet. But we need to begin listening and making it our business to know what’s going on. And we need to make it clearly understood to them our role: to help them succeed in designing a safe, effective product that our shared customers want to use.

We need to become better tuned-in to the design team’s activities. This early information gathering should be an observation. If we’re showing up where we’re not usually invited, then we’ll show up as a bystander to start. Be present (we’re not spies), but let meetings take their course without comment. Stop by your engineering friend’s desk for a chat. Listen and gather information. What’s the status of current projects? Who is the project manager? What new design projects are waiting in the pipeline? We need to be nosy without jumping into problem solving mode.

And, then we need to continue to follow-up and be nosy. We should make it one of our weekly task goals: to get ourselves a status update. We need to know enough so that when the time is right, we start jumping into our Quality and Reliability Engineering action plans. As much as the design team likes to keep to themselves early on, they may also not know which question to ask us or may not conceive of how we can help. This is why we must be listening early and this is how we can champion our use earlier in the process.

We know our own value and realize we may have a unique perspective, so we will be confident enough to not need to be asked to participate. The team is going on a vendor plant visit to discuss a design turn change: invite yourself to go along! Prototype builds are going on now in the lab: stop by and and see what’s going on! The team is bringing in someone to interview to gather customer opinion: attend or follow-up with what was learned.

We need to make ourselves present and operate as service-minded. We need to demonstrate that we are invested in the design and want to see it succeed. We need to share when to apply our Quality and Reliability knowledge. When we do this over and again, we will act as our own champions of change and will start to cultivate a shift in culture where Quality and Reliability engineers are seen as integral partners to design success.