Quality last… wait, what?

Quality first.

Right? That’s what we’re supposed to say. That’s what you the customer wants to hear? Right? When you have quality everything else falls into place. The customer is happy, your costs aren’t muddied up with rework and inefficiency, your reputation improves, your sales increase, you become the envy of other makers of stretchy pants, and on and on…

All good stuff except, for the technician, the order is wrong.

For the technician, quality doesn’t come first. Quality is the logical end; the outcome of skilled people, dignified through the holy sanctification of a hard day’s honest work, working within a solid system that they helped build, through their own hard-earned lessons.

Nobody comes to work and decides to make garbage. Nobody I work with anyway. When our quality falls short – and yes, we’re human too, our quality sometimes falls short – it’s the result of an incorrect decision by a well meaning person. Whether it’s poor planning, trying to be all things to all people, being too busy to do the maintenance, or not giving ourselves enough time, there are a million reasons why quality might suffer. These reasons all teach us, each and every one, a unique and valuable/painful lesson, in their due time… believe me…

When I think about quality I think of egg rolls. My wife and I love to make egg rolls. As the father of seven children you can’t beat a dish that’s mostly cabbage and kids are excited to eat. It’s pretty easy… or is it? You shred the cabbage, carrots, cilantro, green onion, cook the meat, add a few flavor enhancers (soy sauce and sesame oil), cook it all down until the cabbage is pliable but not mushy, and you’re ready to roll… literally.

The key to rolling egg rolls is a consistent set of specific motions, each meant for a specific purpose and time. I’ve tried them all. There’s the amount of filling (1/4 cup, not heaping). The position of the filling on the wrap (this depends upon if your wrap is a perfect square or slightly rectangular). There are the presence of stiffer cabbage pieces lurking in the wrong position, waiting to sabotage you and poke through the wrap at the last moment (a true test of patience and self-control. Remember children are within earshot). There is the tension of the wrap, not so tight it tears, but not so loose the filling falls out when you go to dip it on bite number two (Think user experience). There is the ever critical folding and rolling method, within which there are at least five key decision points.

All of this to say, it’s a complex process, it fits into about 10 seconds, and there are numerous opportunities for quality to suffer.

I’m a humble man… a humble man who makes AMAZING EGG ROLLS!!

Not only are they delicious; they hold together, they’re golden crispy brown and unfettered with tears. They aren’t soggy, they’re compliant to the bite with a pleasing crunch, and they do their job as a vehicle for sauces, thick and thin.

This mastery is no accident. I’ve traveled (and continue to travel) the full length of the mistake arc.

The first time an error happens you think it was an anomaly and that it won’t happen again. The next few times you think maybe there’s a way to sidestep it without needing to think about it too much. After that, there’s no denying it, you have to make a choice. Either get used to it, suck up your new defect rate, and live with it as the new normal, or observe the process and put in the work to improve it. In the short term, side stepping and living with it always seems easier. Who has time for process analysis when you (and your kids) are hungry? In truth, the easier and better route is to observe and correct. I’ve done this with egg rolls to great success, renown, and reward. I know what to avoid, I know what is worth the extra effort, and what is not.

In short, I know the elements of quality.

There are many things I bring home from work. Some I should, and some I should not. My wife is good at making that distinction. A healthy appetite for dinner and continuous improvement are two examples. At Borah, I’ve learned how to build quality into the process such that quality is the only logical outcome.

That’s what quality is.

Quality does come first; for the entrepreneur and for the customer. That focus and input on their part is critically important for us technicians. In the mind of the technician, quality is the result, and if, at the end of a hard fought day, it happens, it quite literally came last.

Quality is an understanding of how thousands of tiny details look and behave. That understanding is what we have here at Borah Teamwear. Thanks to a factory floor that is steps away from my desk and technicians that come and talk to me many times per day, we can understand and manage our tiny details like none other.

I’m sure the other guys have systems and processes to manage quality when the factory is half a world away. I don’t know how I would do it, and thanks to Borah, I have a place, a team, and the best customers in the world who make it so I don’t have to find out.

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Written by Raven Stevenson – Production Manager

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