Always ready with quality management
Updated: May 28
Field Ready’s quality management is a well thought-out system adopted from the best approaches in many sectors - and specifically tailored to the contexts in which we work.
Before going further, it’s worth clarifying: If you’re looking for “why” we do what we do, please click here. If you’re looking for “where” we decide to work and “who” we help, please read this. If you’re looking for “how” we work, please click here. If you want to know a lot more about all of this, please see here.
What is quality?
There's a myth that "local" means low quality. This largely seems to stem from the technologies available themselves - and on occasion, the undermining of craftsmanship. It might also be wrapped up in the relationship between cost and value. While different needs arise in different contexts, for our purposes quality is about fitting a purpose and meeting expectations at the right time and place.
We achieve quality in what we call "field readiness." We get there by providing quality, which itself is a product of being skillfully made with attention to detail. Field Ready goes further, by not just providing outputs ("products") but also supporting local capabilities through training and partnering with local manufacturers that provide quality and follow-up ("service"). We do this through our programs.
Field Ready’s quality management consists of five parts:
1. Super-talented people
We start with great people and then we empower them to make decisions that have impact. They have training, knowledge and skills that are the products of top universities and companies. They know how to produce quality solutions that can make a difference in people’s lives and scale those that are needed in bigger numbers. Our people have a special combination of experience and tacit knowledge that aren't available at other organizations.
Take, for example, our global engineering technical team focused on COVID-19. The team includes Bryn, who previously did product development for Panasonic and Herman Miller; Catherine, who worked on medical products; Aziz ,who managed production line fabrication and Reuf, who runs his own 3D-printing company when not working for Field Ready. This team supports teams of other talented people dedicated to finding workable solutions in very challenging situations. They are supported by a senior management team with a total of nearly 90 years of experience.
2. Solid foundations
The foundations for our quality management system start with us taking time to understand the contexts in which we work. Our staff consists of people from multiple disciplines and background; most are from affected countries themselves. The ways we work are well documented, from our internal processes (discussed further in the next part below) and external training to offerings such as our Technical Briefs and the book Managing Humanitarian Innovation: The Cutting Edge of Aid (Practical Action, 2018).
Our quality management system is built on a number of available and proven models, methods and tools. Our specific Product-Development Process was developed from a combination of sources including:
Existing Field Ready tools (e.g. Field Days, need assessments, prioritizing tool, 3DP triage tool)
Adaptation of risk assessment tools used in industry (such as this one used by the National Health Service and British Medical Journal)
Adaptation of quality-control procedures also used in industry (such as the First Article Inspection SAE Aviation Standard)
These help guide our daily work and produce practical ways to develop practical items in difficult places.
3. Focused process
For each specific hardware solution, Field Ready follows a rigorous product-development process (PDP). This starts with the identification of need along with local assets, capabilities and opportunities.
The process requires our teams to produce a detailed technical-specification list of design features. It should include both Primary and Secondary features. Primary features are essential to address the area of need. Secondary features are non-essential but still-important considerations. Test plans are developed and our teams often use tools such as Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (DFMEA), Taguchi method and Order of build (DFA). Through this our teams get input from users in the intended environment. It's important to get input from the widest demographic as possible. We ask the user to perform different tasks. Then we collect data such as time taken to complete the task, number of mistakes and user satisfaction to measure usability and safety.
4. Managed risk
Field Ready treats risk very seriously. Our risk-assessment rankings are detailed in our parts catalog. The rankings are a measure of severity and risk involved for the item's maker and end-user. The mitigation and control measures are documented by Field Ready in separate risk assessments for each item it makes.
A number of questions are used to assess risk for in making the item.
What are the hazards involved? We consider all hazards that exist, regardless of severity, likelihood or existing controls. For example, anything used in the preparation or transport of food or drink carries a hazardous-substances risk, as it could ultimately be ingested, be toxic or cause infection.
What are the vulnerabilities? How hazardous will the outcome be in an accident or with negligent use? Examples include but are not limited to burns, cuts, falls or anything that can cause harm or death.
What is the severity and likelihood? We consider the impact and frequency of the potential hazard.
What are the control and mitigation measures? What can be done to lessen or prevent the hazard? Controls that eliminate hazards are preferable to measures that create barriers, such as safety guards or personal protection equipment.
Are there additional considerations? Is there anything else that should be considered particularly from the end-users' perspective such as risks that emerge through "wear and tear" and any other unintended consequences. Does the risk of not providing the item outweigh any other risks?
In practical terms, this means careful attention and ensuring the process just outlined is followed. This involves regular management and technical calls, online systems (including MS 365 and the other tools outlined here) and inspections whenever appropriate.
If a product needs to be durable, for example, we're likely to perform drop tests stressing material and design weaknesses. The ultimate test, however, is user feedback - and because we measure it throughout the process (e.g., using lean methods, not the "waterfall model") we increase the likelihood that things we make are actually used.
5. Sharing and improvement
Once a solution has made it through to distribution, toward the highest level of readiness, it's shared online following the Open Know-How Manifest and it may go through additional OSHWA certification. Our process is fully documented in our portfolio maintained using Airtable and when this is finalized, it's added to Field Ready’s parts catalog.
To this end, we stress learning and continual development. We appreciate the Japanese concept of kaizen, which when done correctly humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (muri) and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method - which is the best way to learn to spot and eliminate waste in making useful things for people in challenging places.