Jeff: The Early Days

 In 101

Years ago when I first met Jeff and Barcode Test was still a dream, we were all learning about the importance of barcode quality. We did not necessarily know we were learning about quality. Let’s just say that the opportunity was developing. I was working for a company that was involved in the early days of barcodes. Jeff was the quality guy for a company that printed gift cards and credit cards. These were also the early days of my growing fascination with the importance of barcode quality, and the growing understanding that quality could mean different things in different corporate cultures.

When the culture is all about cheap, quality does not lead–it is along for a bumpy ride

The company Jeff worked for was all about low prices. Why they even hired a quality guy is still a puzzlement to me: Jeff was a cost and had little understanding of—and even less inte

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

rest in quality. I think he must have been the brainchild of the marketing department, a symbol the sales people could wave in front of prospects. Although Jeff was a cost, he was not paid what a real quality person would and should demand, and would be worth. Low quality eventually breaks every heart. Not surprisingly, that company is now out of business: Jeff had to find a new job, and providence opened the door for Jeff’s education.

The low price company did not understand that quality had to go to—and come from—the heart and soul of the corporate culture.  Jeff’s old company really did not have an identifiable culture. Workers had two goals: look busy and make the boss happy. When quality problems arose, I would be called. It was always an emergency and they would always balk at any needed expenditures, including paying for my time. It was also the beginning of my learning about corporate cultures.

Look busy and make the boss happy

On one occasion I arrived to find Jeff sitting at his test station, scanning a stack of printed loyalty cards for a big box home store. He took a card and scanned it with their old laser verifier. If it got anything less than a C grade, he would scan it again—and again and again, until he found a “sweet spot” on the barcode that would return a C grade. Once it “passed” he would put it on the “good” stack and take the next card. He had already been at it for hours, and had hours to go before the stack would be finished. He was accomplishing both of his goals—looking busy and making his boss happy. All the cards would (eventually) be “good”. That was Jeff’s job, as he understood it. My arrival, having been summoned by Jeff’s boss, did not bother him in the least. He was doing what he was instructed to do.

Quality is not just upstream or downstream

It was never clear whether supervisors or decision makers at the company understood that this was not quality assurance, or that it really did not matter as long as sales grew and profits were maintained. Eventually it mattered to their customers.

Eventually, when the company went out of business, it mattered to Jeff. It had to. He learned and advanced.

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