I would never want to believe that a business, operated by intelligent and moral people, could sacrifice quality, and even ethics, to produce a product and complete a sale. Yet recently, I witnessed a business that was so desperate to make a few deadlines, it bypassed due diligence to get a product delivered.

I can’t discuss the specific challenges or events I witnessed, but there are some basic behaviors that turn good and reasonable intentions into news-making, business-damaging disasters.

Imagine a project engineer submits an order for a complete product assembly, even though it’s not complete or what the engineering order (EO) process directs.

A manager explains that there is no intent to build the product from this EO, and that they only want to issue the EO to get the bill of materials into the system. Unfortunately, once the EO is issued, the process takes over, and there is nothing to prevent the manufacturing and assembly of the project as parts start to arrive.

The production floor, upon looking for drawings and documentation to begin the assembly process, can’t find instructions in the system because they are not completed and nothing prevented them from starting as intended.

When the production team enters the discussion, they are handed redline drawings and told to use them. This isn’t allowed, according to the process, but the team is assured that the redlines will be approved drawings by the time the first product run is complete.

Then more trouble emerges. Not everything necessary to produce the product is complete. Likewise, not every redline works with every other redline, and some components must be modified in order to assemble. The drawings that are already behind the production process must be reworked to match what is built, and part orders with suppliers must be amended. However, there aren’t any official drawings to correct, so there isn’t any trail to assure that the changes are properly made.

Take this scenario to completion, and we see how an innocent decision can become a business-threatening mistake. The initial run of the product makes it to the shipping dock. The customer is already threatening to cancel future business if another shipment is late, and the shipment must go. Unfortunately, because the engineering and other personnel are already overwhelmed with emergencies, and since things progressed without first requiring the correct documentation, the documentation package was never completed.

The testing to prove product performance was conducted without actually conforming the product to the non-existent drawings and, therefore, cannot truly represent proof of performance according to expectations. How can the quality team assign the seal of approval to a product for which the documentation package and traceability of conformance cannot be compared?

The quality team must either be convinced to allow the product to ship based on redlines and verbal assurances, or it must hold the shipment until the documentation is complete.

If that product is a retail item and ships and one of those undocumented production modifications causes a safety issue, the consequences could be serious and even illegal.

Another example of committing a crime without meaning to starts when a custom ordered, aftermarket product is late. The supply chain professional is deemed responsible and is told to get that product to the customer, “whatever it takes.”

So the agent and the project manager get on a plane and fly to the manufacturer of the last component, personally take receipt of the component, and carry it on another international flight to the customer. In the mean time, the rest of the product is expedited to the customer.

The project manager, supply chain agent, the missing component, and the incomplete product then converge at the customer’s facility. The project manager installs the component and they turn over a completed product to the customer. Problem solved, right?

No, a big problem was created. The custom product was shipped incomplete, which means it could not possibly have been approved for quality conformance. In some environments, that might not be a big issue, but in regulated environments, it is a violation and possibly illegal.

Additionally, they have violated customs and trade law. If that component included controlled substances or materials, or if it included sensitive or controlled electronics, the violation of customs law could be severe.

If someone back at the office decides to cancel an engineering order that cannot be completed and signed off because the last component did not arrive for final assembly and now it never will, it could be perceived by a future investigation or audit as an attempt to cover up the violation of customs and trade law. After all, if that order doesn’t exist on record, then there’s no traceability for the component or perhaps the whole customer order.

These things can happen without intent. After all, the entire process of building a product involves a great many people in numerous functions. When everyone follows a well-established process, everyone knows pretty well what the plan is.

However, when the process is bypassed and the plan is verbally communicated from one person to a few others, and that plan changes, it’s easy for one or more people to do what they believe is right, only to inadvertently create a problem they don’t perceive.

When we choose to forget that our processes and procedures and policies are in place to protect us from disaster, then we invite disaster by ignoring them.

Stay wise, friends.

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