Sunday, 1 February 2015

Can Outsourcing Quality Really Be A Good Thing?

After twenty two years climbing corporate ladders I decided to go freelance back in 2006. On several occasions I have taken on a contract as a Project Quality Manager. Generally, this means working as a team member of one or more projects, helping the team, and mostly the project manager, to make sure they are following corporate standards, using good practice and generally steering them in the right direction to ensure that quality is built into the end product.

One of the contuining conversations I have with myself, is whether this kind of outsourcing is a "good thing". My accountant and bank manager would certainly say that it is. With my experience I can command a decent daily rate, and usually I'm protected from political shenanigans which means I can leave my work in the office when I leave the building. I enjoy working at the coal face, engaging with project teams, and even occasionally facilitating beneficial changes in the organisation. Above all, I always try and make a difference.

But my passion is about helping organisations improve, especially in areas which seem to have fallen out of favour as core functions within the business, like quality and process management. More and more businesses are outsourcing their quality and process activities, either to individuals like myself, or to larger outsourcing consultancies like Wipro, Accenture or Cognizant. And this causes me a great deal of concern. In fact I touched on this very dilemma back in 2011.

On numerous occasions I have sat in on Town Hall meetings where the senior management extol the importance of high quality and effective processes and in the next slide indicate that these functions are being outsourced. What sort of mixed message is that? They are basically saying "These are critically important to us but we're going to outsource them to the lowest bidder because cost savings trump everything else"!

When organisations make their quality and process specialists redundant it makes me feel that part of the organisational conscience is being ripped out. These people form a part of the glue that keeps many of the other parts of the business together. When I have been privileged enough to lead quality and improvement activities across the organisation, myself and the members of my team have been among the very few people who interacted with everyone in the business, pretty much on a daily basis. We also had strong connections with other related organisations, mainly other UK delivery centres, but with other global teams. We were uniquely positioned to help teams and individuals reach out to other people who had knowledge that could help our people.

Outsourcing these roles and functions may still ensure that core activities are performed. Contractors can undertake audits, assure compliance, identify and even lead improvement activities but as outsiders they will never be treated in the same way as genuine peers to the engineers and delivery team members. And the little bits of knowledge they accumulate, and the networks they build, will disappear out of the organisation at the end of the contract, leaving the next person to start building up those relationships all over again.

I've often commented that I believe there are two types of quality staff. There's the old style manager who hides behind dusty old standards and checklists, focusing on policing the business, and avoiding change. Then there are the proactive, modern quality leaders who drive change and improvements, strive to add value and work closely with people to help them meet and exceed their objectives. In some ways both of these are preferable to itinerant quality staff, like myself - who have probably been driven to ply their trade like modern day quality mercenaries because their traditional roles have been outsourced.

I've been very fortunate that I learnt my trade as a permanent employee, and managed to embrace all kinds of quality related disciplines on the job. I can double up as a project or programme manager, a process improvement lead, a communications manager or even an operations manager, and I can lead major business change initiatives. But some of the younger people I work with who are starting out on their first quality contracts will not be so fortunate. They won't be offered the same types of opportunities that I was, because those opportunities won't be available to externally contracted quality staff (no matter how good they are).

A dedicated, effective, value added quality service, culture and mindset takes a long time to build in an organisation. And like a reputation, it takes very little for it to be shattered beyond repair. So, if you are considering outsourcing your quality function, think again. Do you really want your reputation to go down the pan in order to save a few overhead costs?

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment