PEOPLE POWER: Quality assurance a key to the new higher management level


In several recent articles we have discussed the need for management to go to a new higher level, building on Albert Einstein’s statement: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

I believe quality assurance is a key to achieving this new higher level for most dairy farms.

Quality assurance is a term common to business, but not so common in agriculture.

Let’s begin with the recent highly publicized recalls of eggs produced on two Iowa farms. I have no inside information, but I am confident those farms had processes in place to produce quality eggs. Problems were created when those processes were not followed every time – likely a quality assurance problem.

1) What is quality assurance?

Simply stated, quality assurance is assuring quality in daily tasks, procedures and processes, making sure they are executed exactly as designed, every time.

It sounds simple; it is not. We go to educational meetings, read materials, talk to colleagues, study records, and build on experiences in deciding what inputs to use, procedures to follow and decisions to make to maximize or optimize productivity, efficiency and profitability.

The resources available to us and these decisions establish an unknown – but real – maximum potential outcome. When these decisions are not implemented exactly as specified, performance falls below potential.

Let’s look at three examples:

• Farm managers who raise crops spend endless hours selecting crop inputs and designing planting, pest management, nutrient management and harvesting systems. These inputs and systems determine the unknown – but real – crop yield and quality potential. We can’t control reductions due to unfavorable weather, but we can minimize reductions due to failure to exactly follow the input and planting/harvesting specifications. Eliminating these reductions requires quality assurance.

• Given our knowledge/expertise/skills and what needs to be accomplished in our position, each of us begins each day with an unknown – but real – potential for what we can accomplish. Every time we lose time because we have not established proper priorities, work on a task someone else should be doing, or keep working when a break would increase productivity, we fall further behind our potential for that day. Time management and other tools to reach our potential are quality assurance.

• Probably the most common example of quality assurance on dairy farms is proper milking procedure. We can look at this specifically in terms of somatic cell count (SCC). Great effort is taken to envelop a milking procedure. That procedure and the physical layout of the facility determine the unknown – but real – potential, in this case the SCC level. Each time that procedure is not followed exactly reduces the likelihood of reaching potential, resulting in an increase in the SCC.

2) Why is quality assurance important?

Quality assurance is needed to enable success – not something only needed because people are stupid or unmotivated. It is needed to go to that next level of management.

Let me share a personnel example of quality assurance. As an avid fan of the University of Minnesota Women’s Hockey team, each year I am responsible for three or four postgame receptions for members of the team’s fan club.

Early on I developed a checklist I use for each reception. Did I develop the checklist because I don’t know what to do, am unmotivated, or stupid? No. I developed and use it for two reasons: 1) to ensure that I don’t forget one or two of the many details, and 2) so I don’t have to waste time recalling everything and doubling back to do things I overlooked. The checklist is a quality assurance tool to enable me to successfuly have everything ready for every reception.

This is the most important message of this article: Quality assurance is necessary to enable ourselves and our employees to succeed.

3) What are examples of quality assurance?

A key to reaching a higher level of management is to expand our concept of developing tasks, procedures and processes. In addition to specifying the task, procedure or process, we need to also explicitly design a quality assurance program to ensure potential is reached.

In agriculture, we have too often referred to all quality assurance as developing standard operating procedures (SOPs). SOPs are needed for quality assurance in situations, like the milking procedure, where the tasks must be completed in a specific sequence. Where the sequence is not necessarily crucial, as in my reception checklist, an SOP is not appropriate, as it overly controls the person completing the process, likely reducing motivation.

Checklists and “To Do” lists are two of the many additional tools for quality assurance.

• A checklist is best used for tasks that must all be executed correctly to successfully complete an activity. The order is not critical to performance, but each must be completed each time the activity is performed.

• A “To Do” list is great for identifying tasks that need to be completed, such as in a day or as a repository for tasks to be completed when time is available.

We have a wonderful inventory of ready-to-use quality assurance tools. Contact me for more information.


Robert Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC, can be reached via phone: 888-249-3244, ext. 255, e-mail:, or website: