The Internalization of Quality

By Nancy Cunningham of Scribe Inc.


The pursuit of quality is a never-ending pursuit. Organizations around the globe struggle to produce a product of superior quality. Whether you are a truck manufacturer, a pharmaceutical company, a national restaurant chain, or the publisher that employs you, quality is that elusive state of being that makes demands on our collective attention spans and efforts, and upon which we rise and fall as both individuals and companies.

Organizational quality is imposed externally through QA, quality assurance, and QC, quality control. Quality assurance and quality control are often used interchangeably, as if both terms meant the same thing, which is untrue. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) distinguishes between the terms by saying that quality assurance is process oriented, defining the standards/methodology to be followed in order to meet customer requirements. ASQ defines quality control as product oriented, ensuring that the defined standards are followed at every step in the process.

When processes or the products produced through those processes go bad, failure is usually accompanied by an uncommon level of hand-wringing, paired with nonproductive but inevitable finger pointing, followed by a perfunctory resolve to do better next time around. One would hope that we learn from our mistakes, but that is not always the case.

Have you ever wondered what you as an individual can do to increase quality in your organization? Quite simply, you have the power to positively impact the quality of your organization. So does your colleague that sits in the next office, and all of your colleagues down the hall. In addition to the externalized application of both QA and QC, there is nothing to prevent us from adopting a new approach, and much to be gained, by applying an internalized quality approach to every task that we perform. Too many of us wait for our mistakes to be discovered by others farther down the road in the process stream. If we really want to impact quality, we must realize that the quest for quality begins with each one of us.

Over the decades I have spent in publishing, I have found that the copyright page is one of the most difficult pages in a book to finalize. It is not unusual for a copyright page to undergo four, five or more correction iterations on its way to being finalized. The question is why? While it is a given that LOC information often trails, the type of corrections on the copyright page usually involve spacing, spelling and punctuation. Again, the question is why these seemingly minor corrections are not discovered, requested, performed and checked in a single correction pass. I posit that we do not take the time to adequately focus on the content on the copyright page in its entirety. We also do not police our own work effectively, applying internalized quality to the task at hand. If we did, corrections to the copyright page could be accomplished in a single correction pass.

You may be thinking that you do not have the time to apply internalized quality to each task that you perform. You do. Simply take the time that you spend at the end of the project to fix mistakes that have made it all the way through your editorial/production process, and apply it to your original performance on the task. By doing so, you will streamline your process, and increase the likelihood of meeting deadlines without the need for frenzied, heroic measures to make things right at the end of the project.

Let us institutionalize a culture that includes the application of internalized quality for each task that we perform. Bring up the concept at your next staff meeting. Capitalize on the “water cooler effect” by engaging colleagues both inside and outside of your organization in a discussion about internalized quality. Spread the word through social media. Make internalized quality cool. Improve your own performance, hence your reputation, and that of your organization, one task at a time.

Today, apply internalized quality to the task on which you are working. Tomorrow, the overall quality of your project will be improved. In time, as more of your colleagues embrace the concept of internalized quality, your organization will experience an overall improvement in quality. As publishing organizations improve their level of quality, the quality of the publishing industry in general will be improved. From the microcosm of the individual task to the macrocosm of our industry, we, as individuals and publishing professionals, can and should improve quality through the application of internalized quality.