They decided to use something that was not a quality ignition module. Every organization should be concerned with providing a quality product or service to internal and external customers. Many organizations depend upon some form of inspection or appraisal to determine if the requirements have been met. As a result of this appraisal, a decision is made. Either it conforms to requirements or it doesn’t. And then another decision is made: even if it doesn’t conform, can we still use it, or is there a way to rework it so that it comes closer to what the customer really needs?

Appraisal does not help an organization to improve.

It may be decided to provide a nonconforming product or service to the customer. In cases like that, the nonconformance has a way of exploding and causing serious issues further down the line. Think of the faulty ignition modules that caused so many tragic deaths to people driving General Motors vehicles. The module was known to be nonconforming, but General Motors used it anyway. In addition to the human tragedy that resulted, General Motors has reserved at least $300 million to deal with this single issue.

According to Phil Crosby, the policies and systems that will produce quality improvement are based upon the principle of prevention, not appraisal.

Prevention is causing something not to happen. Prevention involves communicating, planning, proofing and working in a way that eliminates opportunities for nonconformance. Prevention is not wishful thinking. It is a specific action plan to stop problems before they ever appear.

In our personal lives, we all practice prevention. We bring our cars in for regular servicing to keep the engine running smoothly. We have our kids put on helmets when they go out for a bike ride. We see doctors and dentists on a regular basis to prevent disease and manage our health. We get a good night sleep before the big job interview.

It is a different story at work. People work without little thought about how their actions might affect others in the organization. We assume that someone else will catch an error. We dive into work without fully understanding our customers’ requirements. And when problems arise, we are somehow shocked and dismayed.

Policies and systems are the essential components of prevention.

A policy is an explicit understanding of what is to be accomplished. Here is an example: “To have no accidents in the workplace.” But for a policy to be carried out, a system must be put into place to allow the policy goal to be realized. The system would include proper safety equipment, training, procedures and controlled testing.

Organizations that learn to prevent quality problems are able to better control costs than those that find and fix problems after-the-fact.